Review: You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen

Review:  You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks & Sarah PekkanenYou Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen
Also by this author: The Wife Between Us
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on March 3, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 343
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen are a dynamic duo when it comes to writing dark and twisty psychological thrillers that keep readers on the edge of their seats, and their latest offering, You Are Not Alone, continues the trend.  You Are Not Alone is a dark and disturbing read that explores what happens when an emotionally vulnerable young woman finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The story follows Shay Miller, whose life is just overall in a disappointing place for her.  She is working a temp job with no prospects of a permanent position on the horizon, she has no real friends to speak of, and she is in love with her roommate Sean, who already has a long-time girlfriend.  Shay finds herself mostly isolated and therefore vulnerable. When Shay happens to be in a subway station and witnesses a young woman commit suicide, she becomes obsessed with learning more about the victim.  She knows her obsession is unhealthy, but she feels compelled nonetheless to find out what led her to take her own life.

I found myself incredibly sympathetic to Shay and the position she has found herself in.  She feels a connection to the suicide victim in part because she can so easily put herself in that woman’s place and can imagine feeling like there’s nothing worth living for. I can understand why she feels it’s so important to find out what exactly drove this woman to do what she did.  She’s thinking of herself and what could drive her to that same point.

The story, and Shay’s life, takes a drastically different turn when she decides to attend the memorial service for the suicide victim and meets Cassandra and Jane Moore, who are sisters and who were also both close to the deceased.  Shay is fascinated by the ultra-charismatic sisters and her obsession with the victim soon expands to include them as well, especially since they seem very eager to befriend her.  Shay is desperate for friends and begins to imagine herself taking the victim’s place in the sisters’ circle of friends. Seems to easy and too good to be true, right?

Good things start happening for Shay as she deepens her connection to the sisters…until suddenly, they don’t. Out of nowhere, Shay finds herself inexplicably caught up in the investigation into the death of the suicide victim as well as another crime.  The authors ratchet up the tension and suspense as Shay desperately tries to figure out what is going on and how she’s going to get herself out of the mess she has found herself in.  I had a few minor issues with pacing early on in the story, but once I got to this part of the book, I flew through the rest of the pages trying put together the pieces of this wild and crazy puzzle.

You Are Not Alone is a disturbing and complex tale of manipulation, danger, and revenge.  If you’re into dark, twisty, and suspenseful reads, this is one that needs to go on your must-read list.

three-half-stars

About Greer Hendricks

GREER HENDRICKS spent over two decades as an editor at Simon & Schuster. Prior to her tenure in publishing, she worked at Allure Magazine and obtained her Master’s in Journalism from Columbia University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and Publishers Weekly. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, The Wife Between Us is her first novel.

Follow Greer Hendricks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

About Sarah Pekkanen

Internationally bestselling author Sarah Pekkanen’s newest book is THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS. She is also the co-author of the upcoming THE WIFE BETWEEN US (out in January 2018).

Her prior novels are: THINGS YOU WON’T SAY, CATCHING AIR, THE BEST OF US, THE OPPOSITE OF ME, SKIPPING A BEAT, and THESE GIRLS.

Sarah’s linked free short estories, published by Simon&Schuster exclusively for ereaders, are titled “All is Bright,” and “Love, Accidentally.”

Sarah is the mother of three young boys, which explains why she writes part of her novels at Chuck E. Cheese. Sarah penned her first book, Miscellaneous Tales and Poems, at the age of 10. When publishers failed to jump upon this literary masterpiece (hey, all the poems rhymed!) Sarah followed up by sending them a sternly-worded letter on Raggedy Ann stationery. Sarah still has that letter, and carries it to New York every time she has meetings with her publisher, as a reminder that dreams do come true.

Her website is www.sarahpekkanen.com and please find her on Facebook Instagram and Twitter @sarahpekkanen!

Review: THE GOD GAME by Danny Tobey

Review:  THE GOD GAME by Danny TobeyThe God Game by Danny Tobey
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 7, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 496
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The God Game by Danny Tobey is a sci-fi thriller that focuses on what happens when a video game that starts off as a welcome escape from reality goes off the rails and takes a horribly wrong and dangerous turn.

The story follows Charlie, a high school senior, and his best friends, a group of computer whizzes who call themselves The Vindicators.  The Vindicators are invited to play a secret underground virtual reality video game called The God Game.  The game is designed by hackers and it’s controlled by an AI (Artificial Intelligence) that really believes it’s God, thus it knows everything and its presence is everywhere.  The whole concept fascinates the Vindicators and they get caught up in the excitement of the game right away.

The game really appeals to the teens for several reasons:  1) it’s challenging because it doesn’t come with instructions and you have to figure things out as you go, 2) it makes them feel special to be ‘in the know’ about something no one else knows about, and 3) they can actually perform tasks and get rewarded with actual prizes like expensive electronics and even cash.

It’s all fun and games at first, but then things take a decidedly darker and more sinister turn. The game starts to threaten them if they don’t perform certain tasks, shadowy figures start following them in real life and actually attack them.  Suddenly it’s not so fun anymore, but what happens when “God” won’t let them leave the game?

****

Wow, what a wild ride this book was!  The whole premise of the video game fascinated me and so I got sucked in just as quickly as the characters in the book did.  I’ve seen The God Game compared to both Black Mirror and Stranger Things, but I’ve not watched either show so I can’t attest to that.  What I will say though is that it gave me a definite Ready Player One vibe because of the virtual reality environment that would superimpose itself right over the real world every time Charlie and his friends played.  I loved this aspect of the author’s worldbuilding, especially when the teens go into the boiler room at school and it magically shifts into something that looks way more like Middle Earth than it does a room in a school.

Aside from the brilliant virtual reality worldbuilding, I also loved the suspense and tension created each time the game raises the stakes.  I found myself just flying through the pages because I wanted to know just how far “God” would go with its threats.

As exciting as the game itself was, what also really drew me into the story was its focus on the personal lives of this group of teens and why they were so eager to escape reality and practically live within the virtual reality walls of this game.  There’s a big focus on how hard it is to be a teen – the peer pressure, the pressure from parents, and even the pressure we put on ourselves.  I think that’s a theme that many will find all too relatable, and it also makes it all the more tragic that this game, which should have been an escape from their troubles, just ends up piling on to their troubles even more.

I don’t want to say anything else because it’s really a story you just have to experience for yourself, so I’ll just say if you’re looking for an exciting sci-fi thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and especially if you have an interest in AI, VR, and/or video games, you should definitely add Danny Tobey’s The God Game to your reading list.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

You are invited!
Come inside and play with G.O.D.
Bring your friends!
It’s fun!
But remember the rules. Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.

Lose, you die!

With those words, Charlie and his friends enter the G.O.D. Game, a video game run by underground hackers and controlled by a mysterious AI that believes it’s God. Through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses, the teens’ realities blur with a virtual world of creeping vines, smoldering torches, runes, glyphs, gods, and mythical creatures. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them with expensive tech, revenge on high-school tormentors, and cash flowing from ATMs. Slaying a hydra and drawing a bloody pentagram as payment to a Greek god seem harmless at first. Fun even.

But then the threatening messages start. Worship me. Obey me. Complete a mission, however cruel, or the game reveals their secrets and crushes their dreams. Tasks that seemed harmless at first take on deadly consequences. Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them, appearing around corners, attacking them in parking garages. Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?

And what of the game’s first promise: win, win big, lose, you die? Dying in a virtual world doesn’t really mean death in real life—does it?

As Charlie and his friends try to find a way out of the game, they realize they’ve been manipulated into a bigger web they can’t escape: an AI that learned its cruelty from watching us.

God is always watching, and He says when the game is done.

four-stars

About Danny Tobey

Danny Tobey is the author of THE GOD GAME, arriving January 7, 2020 from St. Martin’s press. He is a fifth-generation Texan and a graduate of Harvard College, Yale Law School, and UT Southwestern medical school. Harvard gave Danny the Edward Eager prize “for the best creative writing.” He wrote and edited the Harvard Lampoon and was anthologized in The Best of the Harvard Lampoon: 140 Years of American Humor. Danny’s first novel, the sci-fi fantasy thriller The Faculty Club, came out from Simon & Schuster. Danny is a noted expert on Artificial Intelligence. In 2019, the Library of Congress gave Danny the Burton Award for his work on AI and the law.

Review: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN by Diane Chamberlain

Review: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN by Diane ChamberlainBig Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain
Also by this author: The Dream Daughter
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on January 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 400
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN review

Diane Chamberlain’s latest novel, Big Lies in a Small Town, follows two protagonists, Morgan Christopher and Anna Dale.  When we meet Morgan, she is serving a three-year prison sentence. Prior to her arrest, Morgan was in school pursuing her dream of a career in art.  That dream is on indefinite hold until one day when Lisa Williams, the daughter of Jesse Jameson, one of Morgan’s favorite artists, visits her in prison and presents her with an offer she can’t refuse. If, per Jameson’s request, as expressed in his will, Morgan is willing to help Lisa with a major art restoration project, Morgan will immediately be released from prison.  It sounds too good to be true, of course. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration and can’t imagine how she ended up named in Jesse Jameson’s will, but she’s not about to pass up on an offer to get her life back and so she accepts.

The art restoration project, which is a post office mural from a tiny town in North Carolina in 1940, is where the second protagonist, Anna Dale, comes into play.  When Morgan begins work on the mural project and starts to remove the layers of dirt and grime that mire the mural’s surface, she makes a shocking discovery. What at first looks like a quaint portrait of small-town southern life soon reveals itself to be something much more disturbing. Hidden throughout the mural are axes, knives, blood, and even skulls. Morgan can’t imagine this was the artist’s original intention for the mural and becomes obsessed with trying to figure out what happened to make the artist go down such a dark path. The artist is Anna Dale.

* * * * *

One of my favorite things about this novel is Chamberlain’s use of the dual timeline.  In one timeline, we follow Anna from the time she takes the job to paint the mural and moves to North Carolina to complete her task, all the way through to what caused her to insert those violent images into her art.  At the same time, we follow Morgan as she both restores the mural and tries to find out whatever she can about what happened to Anna.  I loved how the two timelines parallel one another, revealing secret after secret and lie after lie, until they ultimately merge in the most heart-wrenching way.

I also loved Chamberlain’s portrayal of both of these characters. Both Anna and Morgan are underdogs in their respective timelines and I just adored both of them.  They’re strong yet vulnerable, smart and resourceful, and they’re also both just so complex.  Morgan is battling some inner demons related to her imprisonment, and as we can see from the mural, Anna had some demons of her own that haunted her.  The more I learned about Morgan, the more I was cheering her on every step of the way, and the more I learned about Anna, the more invested I became in learning what happened since that mural looks like it was painted by someone with a very disturbed mind.

* * * * *

Filled with gorgeous prose, a unique, multi-layered and compelling plot, and unforgettable characters, Big Lies in a Small Town, completely blew me away.  I loved every page of it, so much so that it’s my first 5-star review of 2020.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

five-stars

About Diane Chamberlain

Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and Sunday Times bestselling author of 26 novels published in more than twenty languages. Her most recent novel is The Dream Daughter. Some of her most popular books include Necessary Lies, The Silent Sister, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes, and The Keeper of the Light Trilogy. Diane likes to write complex stories about relationships between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and friends. Although the thematic focus of her books often revolves around family, love, compassion and forgiveness, her stories usually feature a combination of drama, mystery, secrets and intrigue. Diane’s background in psychology has given her a keen interest in understanding the way people tick, as well as the background necessary to create her realistic characters.

Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and spent her summers at the Jersey Shore. She also lived for many years in San Diego and northern Virginia before making North Carolina her home.

Diane received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, Diane worked in hospitals in San Diego and Washington, D.C. before opening a private psychotherapy practice in Alexandria Virginia specializing in adolescents. All the while Diane was writing on the side. Her first book, Private Relations was published in 1989 and it earned the RITA award for Best Single Title Contemporary Novel.

Diane lives with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her sheltie, Cole. She has three stepdaughters, two sons-in-law, and four grandchildren. She’s currently at work on her next novel.

Please visit Diane’s website dianechamberlain.com for more information on her newest novel, The Stolen Marriage, and a complete list of her books.

Review: CILKA’S JOURNEY by Heather Morris

Review:  CILKA’S JOURNEY by Heather MorrisCilka's Journey by Heather Morris
four-half-stars
Series: The Tattooist of Auschwitz #2
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 1, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CILKA’S JOURNEY Review

 

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris is the heart-wrenching story of Cilka Klein, who in 1942, at the age of sixteen, is sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp.  Cilka is a beautiful girl and her beauty catches the eye of some of the guards at the camp, who decide to separate her from her fellow prisoners.  By playing the role these men want her to play, Cilka manages to survive three years in the camp until it is liberated.  Unfortunately, young Cilka’s harrowing journey has just begun.  She is arrested by the Russians, charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy (even though she had no choice in the matter) and is sent to prison for 15 years in Siberia.

While Cilka’s Journey itself is a work of historical fiction, it is based on a true story and as such is just all the more heartbreaking to read.  Cilka is an incredibly sympathetic character. I liked her immediately because of the way she nurtures some of the younger prisoners.  It’s clear that she is a victim of an unfair system and I found myself immediately rooting for her to find a way to survive.  In showing what happens to Cilka from the moment she is arrested, Morris does an incredible job of exposing the many wrongs that all prisoners, but especially female prisoners, faced.  The abuse is rampant, both physical and sexual, the conditions they are kept in are barbaric, and the treatment is inhumane, making the Russians appear, in many ways, not very different from the Nazis.

I thought the pacing of the novel was excellent too.  Because I was so invested in Cilka and worried for her well-being, I was just glued to the book to see how things would turn out for her.

Thankfully though, it’s not all doom and gloom.  Morris shows that there are a few bright spots in Cilka’s life in spite of her prison sentence.  Her cellmates become somewhat of a “found family” for her, and she even befriends a female doctor at the hospital where she has been assigned to do administrative work because of her language skills.  And while working at the hospital, she meets someone who inspires her to think about her future and what her life could possibly be like once she is finally free.  It was nice to have moments like these woven into what is otherwise one heartbreak after another.

With every page of Cilka’s Journey, Morris brings to life Cilka’s heart, her bravery, and her strength.  Her journey is filled with loss and grief, but also with resiliency and the will to live. And while Cilka’s Journey is a harrowing tale of survival, it is also ultimately a story of hope and love.

I didn’t realize when I requested Cilka’s Journey that it is a sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which I haven’t read yet.  Thankfully, however, it works quite well as a standalone and I highly recommend it to fans of historical fiction, especially from the WWII era.  It’s a powerful read, an emotional read, and one that will stick with you long after you’ve finished the last page.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the author of the multi-million copy bestseller, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, comes the new novel based on an incredible true story of love and resilience.

Her beauty saved her life – and condemned her.

Cilka is just sixteen years old when she is taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp, in 1942. The Commandant at Birkenau, Schwarzhuber, notices her long beautiful hair, and forces her separation from the other women prisoners. Cilka learns quickly that power, even unwillingly given, equals survival.

After liberation, Cilka is charged as a collaborator for sleeping with the enemy and sent to Siberia. But what choice did she have? And where did the lines of morality lie for Cilka, who was sent to Auschwitz when still a child?

In a Siberian prison camp, Cilka faces challenges both new and horribly familiar, including the unwanted attention of the guards. But when she makes an impression on a woman doctor, Cilka is taken under her wing. Cilka begins to tend to the ill in the camp, struggling to care for them under brutal conditions.

Cilka finds endless resources within herself as she daily confronts death and faces terror. And when she nurses a man called Ivan, Cilka finds that despite everything that has happened to her, there is room in her heart for love.

four-half-stars

About Heather Morris

Heather Morris is a Native of New Zealand now resident in Australia, working in a large public hospital in Melbourne. For several years she studied and wrote screenplays, one of which was optioned by an academy award winning Screenwriter in the U.S. In 2003, she was introduced to an elderly gentleman “who might just have a story worth telling”. She says the day she met Lale Sokolov changed her life, as their friendship grew and he embarked on a journey of self scrutiny, entrusting the inner most details of his life during the Holocaust. Morris originally wrote Lale’s story as a screenplay – which ranked high in international competitions – before reshaping it into her debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz.

Review: 29 SECONDS by T.M. Logan

Review:  29 SECONDS by T.M. Logan29 Seconds by T.M. Logan
Also by this author: Lies
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on September 10, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
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FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own..

 

 

 

 

 

 

29 SECONDS Review

 

Wow, what a book! T.M. Logan’s latest novel 29 Seconds follows Dr. Sarah Haywood, who is a contracted member of a university faculty.  Sarah is a shining star in her department, but one person stands in the way of her getting the permanent position with the university she so desperately desires…her boss.  Alan Hawthorne, an esteemed professor and a TV host to boot, is a pig. He’s so awful that the women who work with him have an established set of rules as to how to interact with him, with the number one rule being to never, ever be alone with him.  He dangles promotions in exchange for sexual favors or threatens to ruin careers if a woman chooses not to participate in such acts.

When the novel opens, Sarah is clearly in Hawthorne’s crosshairs and he is making her life a living hell every day with endless uncomfortable encounters and veiled threats.  The workplace is completely toxic but any woman who leaves the staff finds herself black-listed in the academic world, also courtesy of Hawthorne.  The author does a wonderful job of making Sarah a sympathetic character.  She’s clearly the underdog in an impossible situation and I was immediately rooting for her to find a way to beat this monster and get that promotion.

A chance encounter with another powerful and dangerous man presents her with the unexpected opportunity to make one person disappear.  It’s the answer to Sarah’s prayers, but can she really bring herself to do it?  This moral dilemma that Sarah faces is the most compelling element of the story for me, and it’s what makes the novel so suspenseful.  Will she or won’t she?  How far can Hawthorne push and threaten her before she snaps?

I loved reading Sarah’s internal thoughts as she struggled with her decision.  She’s so tempted but she’s also flat out horrified at herself for even considering it.  I can’t even imagine working for such a monster that such a thing would be a temptation, but at the same time, the whole situation had me a little surprised and horrified at myself because I found myself kind of hoping she would just go for it.  It really gave me something to think about and I love it when a book can do that.

T.M. Logan’s 29 Seconds is a wild ride! I devoured it in less than 24 hours. Filled with suspense and exciting twists and turns, it’s a book I simply could not put down until I knew how it was going to end.  And what an ending it is! I totally did not see it coming, which for me, is the hallmark of a great thriller.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Give me one name. One person. And I will make them disappear . . .

When Sarah rescues a young girl in trouble, she expects nothing in return. But her act of bravery puts a powerful and dangerous man in her debt. He lives by his own brutal code, and all debts must be repaid – in the only way he knows how.

He offers Sarah a way to solve a desperate situation with her intolerable boss. A once-in-a-lifetime deal that will make all her problems disappear.

No consequences. No comeback. No chance of being found out.

All it takes is a 29 second phone call.

Because everyone has a name to give. Don’t they?

four-stars

About T.M. Logan

Tim was born in Berkshire and studied at Queen Mary and Cardiff universities before becoming a national newspaper journalist. He currently writes full-time and lives in Nottinghamshire with his wife and two children. LIES is his first novel – published by Bonnier Zaffre in January 2017. His next thriller, 29 SECONDS, comes out in January 2018 and is currently available to pre-order. For exclusive writing and new releases from TM Logan, sign up to the Readers’ Club: www.bit.ly/TMLogan.

Review: THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE by Katherine Center

Review:  THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE by Katherine CenterThings You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
five-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on August 13, 2019
Genres: Romance, Women's Fiction
Pages: 320
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE Review

 

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt, engaging story about family, love, and the power of forgiveness.  It follows Cassie Hanwell, a young woman who unexpectedly has to uproot her life and relocate from Texas to Boston to take care of her ailing mother.  Cassie is a superstar firefighter at her precinct in Texas, but it’s a whole new ballgame when she has to start over in another city.  Then there’s also the fact that Cassie’s mother abandoned her when she was 16 and Cassie has pretty much written her off ever since.  Moving in with her after all these years is awkward, to say the least.

I’m just going to throw it out there right now and say that Things You Save in a Fire was a 5 star read for me.  It’s just one of those wonderful books that checks off all the boxes I look for in a read.  The writing is excellent, the characters are well developed – both the main characters and the secondary characters, and Cassie’s journey is such a compelling one to follow on every level.

I really adored Cassie from the moment we are introduced to her.  Cassie, a female firefighter trying to make it in what is traditionally a male-dominated profession, is impossible not to root for.  She’s one of those messy, complex characters that I love so much.  She’s scrappy, smart, strong, and she’s very good at what she does – the best honestly, and she knows she has to be if she’s going to be taken seriously.  While she’s calm, cool, and collected when it comes to putting out fires and saving lives, she’s the opposite when it comes to all areas of her personal life, especially her rocky relationship with her mother and her non-existent love life.  Cassie has made a conscious choice not to date and not to fall in love.  She doesn’t have the time or interest in doing either…until she meets the Rookie.

Don’t even get me started on how precious the Rookie is.  He’s adorable, like a Golden Retriever in a firefighter’s uniform.  He’s sweet, polite, and he even bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie.  He’s practically perfect in every way that matters and Cassie is finding him pretty hard to resist in spite of her no dating rule. But it’s not all sunshine and roses for the Rookie either. He has a few messy layers too, in the form of a secret he has carried around since he was a child that weighs him down, a secret that could potentially crush his father if he were to ever find out.

Aside from really enjoying reading about Cassie and the Rookie individually, I was of course rooting for them to get together.  They were hired at the firehouse on the same day and their chemistry was immediately off the charts.  The more time they spent together, whether it was being tied to a flagpole all night as part of a hazing prank or sharing a late-night omelet (of course cooked to perfection by the Rookie), the more I wanted to scream at Cassie to abandon her no dating rule.

What I loved the most about Things You Save in a Fire is how multi-layered the story was and how every aspect of it was equally compelling.  Aside from loving the Cassie/Rookie relationship as it developed, I also enjoyed reading about the firefighting aspect of it – all of it, the pranks, the actual fighting of fires, the EMT training, and of course how the all male dynamic evolves once they have a woman in their midst.  It was all quite fascinating to read about.  I’m also all about a story that features a complicated family dynamic and that is exactly what I got with Cassie agreeing to move in with her ailing but estranged mother.

As fantastic as all of these elements were though, the themes of Things You Save in a Fire are what really captured my heart.  Yes, it’s a story about a woman making it in a man’s world, but it’s also an incredibly moving story about family and the power of forgiveness.  And finally, and most importantly, it’s a story about strength and finding the courage to let love into your heart.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away comes a stunning new novel about family, hope, and learning to love against all odds.

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s excellent at dealing with other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to uproot her life and move to Boston, it’s an emergency of a kind Cassie never anticipated.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew, even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the handsome rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because she doesn’t fall in love. And because of the advice her old captain gave her: don’t date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…but will she jeopardize her place in a career where she’s worked so hard to be taken seriously?

Katherine Center’s Things You Save in a Fire is a heartfelt, affecting novel about life, love, and the true meaning of courage.

five-stars

About Katherine Center

Katherine Center is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Walk Away, the upcoming Things You Save in a Fire (August 2019), and five other bittersweet comic novels. Six Foot Pictures is currently adapting her fourth novel, The Lost Husband, into a feature film starring Josh Duhamel, Leslie Bibb, and Nora Dunn. Katherine has been compared to both Nora Ephron and Jane Austen, and the Dallas Morning News calls her stories, “satisfying in the most soul-nourishing way.” Katherine recently gave a TEDx talk on how stories teach us empathy, and her work has appeared in USA Today, InStyle, Redbook, People, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic, Real Simple, Southern Living, and InTouch, among others. Katherine lives in her hometown of Houston, Texas, with her fun husband, two sweet kids, and fluffy-but-fierce dog.

Review: THE ESCAPE ROOM by Megan Goldin

Review:  THE ESCAPE ROOM by Megan GoldinThe Escape Room by Megan Goldin
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on July 30, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
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..

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE ESCAPE ROOM Review

 

Megan Goldin’s The Escape Room is a suspenseful thriller and just an all around wild ride.  It follows four Wall Street investment bankers, Sylvie, Vincent, Sam, and Jules, who are called into the office unexpectedly after hours to participate in what is apparently a mandatory team building activity.  Accustomed to working in an environment that is competitive to the point of being cutthroat, everyone is surprised and more than a little annoyed to be forced to take part in this activity.  What’s even more surprising, however, is the activity itself, which is one of those Escape Rooms that are so popular now and that it takes place with them locked in an elevator together.

The clues presented in the elevator are intensely personal and appear designed to get the colleagues to turn against one another.  No matter what they do and how many clues they work together to solve, the elevator doors remain locked.  What do they have to do to escape what is fast becoming a claustrophobic prison and who is Sara Hall and why does her name appear in one of their clues?

Because this is a thriller I don’t want to say too much more about the plot itself except that it obviously becomes so much more than just a simple Escape Room.  The characters themselves weren’t especially likeable or easy to relate to, which could have made this a challenging read for me since I do usually prefer to feel some kind of connection to the characters I’m reading about, but the story itself was so riveting that even with unlikeable characters, I still couldn’t stop turning the pages. The writing was crisp, fast-paced, and uses a dual timeline structure to advance the plot and eventually reveal what exactly is going on, who is responsible, and most importantly, why it was done. I did guess correctly on a couple of things early on in the book, so that was a little disappointing, but overall I still found this a very entertaining read.

If you’re looking for a suspenseful read that is a compulsive page turner, look no further than Megan Goldin’s The Escape Room.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are ruthlessly ambitious high-flyers working in the lucrative world of Wall Street finance where deception and intimidation thrive. Getting rich is all that matters, and they’ll do anything to reach the top.

When they are ordered to participate in a corporate team-building exercise that requires them to escape from a locked elevator, dark secrets of their team begin to be laid bare.

The biggest mystery to solve in this lethal game: What happened to Sara Hall? Once a young shining star—”now gone but not forgotten”.

This is no longer a game.

They’re fighting for their lives.

three-half-stars

About Megan Goldin

Megan Goldin was a journalist before she became a writer. She reported from the Middle East for the Associated Press, Reuters, the (Australian) ABC and other news outlets. She worked in Asia as a reporter and editor for Reuters and Yahoo!. She is the author of The Escape Room, which will be released in the U.S. and UK in 2019, and The Girl In Kellers Way.

Review: THE NIGHT BEFORE by Wendy Walker

Review:  THE NIGHT BEFORE by Wendy WalkerThe Night Before by Wendy Walker
Also by this author: Emma in the Night
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on May 14, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

THE NIGHT BEFORE Review

Wendy Walker’s The Night Before is a riveting and unique thriller about a woman, Laura Lochner, who goes out on a date with someone she met on the internet and doesn’t return home.  When Laura’s family realizes she is missing, they frantically begin searching for her.  They of course wanted to make sure Laura hasn’t been harmed by this random stranger from the internet. Interestingly enough, however, they are also concerned for the safety of the random stranger and worried that Laura may have harmed him.  The family’s unexpected thoughts about Laura and her potential for violence grabbed my attention right away and kept me turning the pages and what starts out as a seemingly straightforward missing person’s tale turns into a gripping exploration of how this family’s lives have been shaped by childhood trauma and long-buried family secrets.

One of the things I loved most about The Night Before is the way Walker uses multiple timelines and a dual point of view to gradually unfold the details of the story.  We follow Laura’s sister, Rosie, in the aftermath of the internet date gone wrong, as she, her husband, and a close family friend try to retrace Laura’s steps.  They’re trying to find her without involving the police if at all possible because of whatever has happened in Laura’s past to make her so volatile.

In addition to following Rosie, we also follow Laura the night before while she is on her date so that we are able to see what direction the date took and why she didn’t come home.  To further flesh out the story and offer insight into Laura’s past and what has the family so concerned, we also get to sit in on some of Laura’s earlier sessions with her therapist.  I thought this technique was very effective. It felt like watching the pieces of a puzzle start to fill in over time as the story alternated between the different timelines and povs.

I was also a big fan of the novel’s pacing.  You can easily read it in a couple of sittings because it’s quite fast-paced.  It starts out with the tense situation of Laura being missing and the tension only builds from there as everyone races to try to find her.  The suspense also ratchets up the closer and closer we get to finding out what happened in Laura’s past that continues to haunt both her and her family.  The story was filled with enough believable twists and turns to keep me guessing until the end.

The only reason I didn’t rate this 5 stars was because even though I was concerned for the well-being of Laura, I just didn’t feel as much of a connection to her as I would normally like to feel when it comes to main characters.  I think it was because I was constantly torn between wondering if she was a victim or a perpetrator and therefore I didn’t entirely trust her account of events.  In that sense, the book had almost a Gone Girl vibe.

Even with that lack of connection, however, I still think The Night Before is an exciting read that mystery/thriller fans are sure to love.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Riveting and compulsive, national bestselling author Wendy Walker’s The Night Before “takes you to deep, dark places few thrillers dare to go” as two sisters uncover long-buried secrets when an internet date spirals out of control.

Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.

Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date.

When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…

four-stars

About Wendy Walker

Wendy Walker is a former family law attorney in Fairfield County, Connecticut who began writing while at home raising her three sons. She published two novels with St. Martin’s Press and edited multiple compilations for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series before writing her debut psychological thriller, All is Not Forgotten. Her second thriller, Emma In The Night, will be released August 8, 2017.

Wendy earned her J. D., magna cum laude, at the Georgetown University Law Center where she was awarded the American Jurisprudence award for her performance in Contracts and Advanced Criminal Procedure. She received her undergraduate degree, magna cum laude, from Brown University and attended The London School of Economics and Political Science as part of her undergraduate studies.

Prior to her legal career, Wendy was a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., in the mergers and acquisitions group. She has also volunteered at the ACLU, Connecticut Legal Services and Figure Skating in Harlem where she served on the Board of Directors for over twelve years.

Wendy is currently writing her third thriller while managing a busy household.

Review: THE MOTHER-IN-LAW by Sally Hepworth

Review:  THE MOTHER-IN-LAW by Sally HepworthThe Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Also by this author: The Family Next Door
four-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on April 23, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 

THE MOTHER-IN-LAW Review

 

Sally Hepworth is quickly becoming a go-to author for me when I’m in the mood for domestic dramas and mysteries.  Her latest novel, The Mother-In-Law is no exception, with Hepworth delivering both a compelling family drama as well as a riveting mystery.

The novel focuses on two women, Diana and Lucy.  Diana is Lucy’s mother-in-law and the two of them have a very uncomfortable relationship, to put it mildly.  Even though they have known each other for 10 years, Diana still treats Lucy like a stranger. Lucy can’t figure out why Diana seems to hate her so much and at a certain point, has just given up on trying.  Lucy and her husband Oliver have a good life together, only making contact with Diana when necessary, and such is their life.  That is, until a phone call from the police informs them that Diana is dead and that it is an apparent suicide based on some evidence found at the scene.  Lucy and Oliver are shocked because Diana is the most formidable person they’ve ever known and the last person they would expect to commit suicide.  When the coroner’s report comes back, however, the possibility that it was actually murder is suddenly on the table and the police begin investigating.

So many questions immediately start swirling about.  If Diana did take her own life, why?  If foul play was involved, who could possibly want to hurt her and why?

*****

If you like complicated characters, then this is your book because Diana is about as complicated as they come.  She has devoted much of her life to charitable causes and is a beloved and respected member of her community because of this.  Diana’s altruistic nature does not apparently extend to her actual family members. Even though she’s a very wealthy woman, Diana expects her children to stand up on their own two feet and make lives for themselves without handouts from her.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it certainly creates some uncomfortable and tense moments when her children find themselves struggling.  It doesn’t make Diana the easiest character to warm up to, but it definitely made me curious about her.

Where Diana is a character that is hard to warm up to, Lucy, on the other hand, is a character I loved immediately.  She lost her mother to cancer when she was only 13 years old, so when Lucy falls in love with Diana’s son Oliver and agrees to marry him, she’s over the moon about meeting Diana.  She can’t wait to finally have a mother-figure back in her life and goes out of her way to make sure she’s as likeable as possible at their first meeting.  Her dream is shattered immediately, however, when it becomes clear Diana has no interest in her.  It’s not that Diana is mean to Lucy because that’s not her nature, it’s more that she’s completely standoffish – as polite as she knows she has to be, but otherwise, basically a cold fish.  Their relationship starts off that way, and even after 10 years of marriage, it’s still pretty much the same.  This made me immediately sympathetic to Lucy and had me shaking my head at Diana and saying “OMG, why are you like this?”

Aside from the way Hepworth draws her characters, one of my favorite parts of The Mother-In-Law is how she weaves together her tale.  She effectively moves the story back and forth between the different characters’ perspectives, particularly Diana’s and Lucy’s, and between the past and present to gradually paint for her readers not only a complete portrait of Diana, but also toward the answer that we are ultimately all waiting for: what really happened to Diana.  I thought Hepworth’s choice of these elements was a perfect way to unravel both the mystery of Diana herself and of her death. Getting little glimpses into Diana’s earlier life gave me a much greater understanding as to why she’s the way she is, which in turn made me more sympathetic to her.

Other highlights of The Mother-In-Law for me were its quick pacing, its suspenseful plot twists, and the fact that the story was never predictable.  The ending, in particular, shocked me because I didn’t see it coming, not even for a single second!

Sally Hepworth’s The Mother-In-Law is a riveting read from start to finish.  Unraveling the mystery of Diana and why she is the way she is kept me turning the pages just as much as the desire to know what happened to her and if anyone else was responsible.  Hepworth’s books have been compared to those of Liane Moriarty, and I think the comparison is a good one.  If you’re into domestic dramas and mysteries with plenty of twists and turns, The Mother-In-Law is the perfect read for you.  It definitely made me appreciate how simple and uncomplicated my relationship with my own mother-in-law is.

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Someone once told me that you have two families in your life – the one you are born into and the one you choose. Yes, you may get to choose your partner, but you don’t choose your mother-in-law. The cackling mercenaries of fate determine it all.

From the moment Lucy met Diana, she was kept at arm’s length. Diana is exquisitely polite, but Lucy knows, even after marrying Oliver, that they’ll never have the closeness she’d been hoping for.

But who could fault Diana? She was a pillar of the community, an advocate for social justice, the matriarch of a loving family. Lucy had wanted so much to please her new mother-in-law.

That was ten years ago. Now, Diana has been found dead, leaving a suicide note. But the autopsy reveals evidence of suffocation. And everyone in the family is hiding something…

From the bestselling author of The Family Next Door comes a new page-turner about that trickiest of relationships.

four-stars

About Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of The Secrets of Midwives (2015), The Things We Keep (2016) and The Mother’s Promise (2017), and The Family Next Door (Feb 2018). Sally’s books have been labelled “enchanting” by The Herald Sun, “smart and engaging” by Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s novels as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”.

Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 15 languages.

Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.

Review: FORGET YOU KNOW ME

Review:  FORGET YOU KNOW MEForget You Know Me by Jessica Strawser
Also by this author: Not That I Could Tell
three-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Press on February 5, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

FORGET YOU KNOW ME review

I went into Jessica Strawser’s Forget You Know Me expecting to read a thriller.  What I got, however, was something entirely different and not necessarily in a bad way.  Instead of being a thriller, Forget You Know Me is a powerful and emotional exploration of the hurt we all experience when we drift apart from someone we care about, be it a spouse, sibling, or a close friend.

There is a small “thriller” element that takes place in the early chapters of Forget You Know Me, but it’s only central to the plot in the sense that it serves as a catalyst to show just how far apart former best friends Molly and Liza have drifted over the years, as well as how fractured Molly’s relationship with her husband, Daniel, has become after years of neglect and taking advantage of each other.

During a video chat with Molly, for example, Liza sees something terrifying on screen that makes her jump in the car and drive hours to Molly’s house to make sure Molly is okay. When she arrives, however, instead of being grateful that her friend has come all this way to make sure she’s okay, Molly is cold and aloof and pretty much kicks Liza out of her house with no explanation.  The awkwardness continues when not only does Molly offer Liza no explanation, but she also hides what has happened from her husband, who probably should have been the first person she told.  Why the awkwardness and the secrets with the two people she should be closest to?

Strawser’s novel highlights the idea that you only get as much out of a relationship as you’re willing to put into it and just how fragile and fractured relationships can become if neglected.

My favorite part of Forget You Know Me was how well drawn all of the central characters are.  The book is filled with messy, complicated characters who are going through things we can all relate to, whether we want to or not.  Strawser does a wonderful job of making the ups and downs of the friendship between Molly and Liza feel so authentic.  We’ve all been in relationships where we’ve just simply drifted apart over the years, either because we’ve moved away and don’t make enough of an effort to stay in contact, or else because our interests just don’t coincide with one another anymore.

Strawser does an equally impressive job of fleshing out the marriage woes between Molly and Daniel, who have clearly fallen into a rut over the years.  Again, if you’ve been in any kind of long-term relationship, their relationship issues are oh-so-relatable.

In addition to complicated characters in relatable situations, Strawser also does a nice job of building a bit of suspense by keeping that thriller element lurking in the background throughout the novel as she is exploring the relationship struggles of her characters.  The tension created by all of these troubled relationships, in addition to wanting a resolution to the thriller element, kept me glued to the pages.

Strawser’s smooth writing style also kept me turning the pages. Everything just flowed so nicely and I really liked the way this whole story unfolded with its many twists and turns.

My only real disappointment with the novel was that the thriller element, although it had such a huge build up in the early part of the novel, just seemed to fizzle out and take a backseat to everything else that was going on. I really expected and hoped that it would be more central to the story than it ended up being.

I would recommend Forget You Know Me to anyone who is interested in a slightly suspenseful read that explores relationships and what happens to them if they aren’t properly nurtured.  If you’re looking for a true thriller, I’d say to try a different book.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Forget You Know Me is that book you can’t put down, and can’t stop thinking about when you are finished.” —Sally Hepworth, bestselling author of The Family Next Door.

When a video call between friends captures a shocking incident no one was supposed to see, the secrets it exposes threaten to change their lives forever.

Molly and Liza have always been enviably close. Even after Molly married Daniel, the couple considered Liza an honorary family member. But after Liza moved away, things grew more strained than anyone wanted to admit—in the friendship and the marriage.

When Daniel goes away on business, Molly and Liza plan to reconnect with a nice long video chat after the kids are in bed. But then Molly leaves the room to check on a crying child.

What Liza sees next will change everything.

Only one thing is certain: Molly needs her. Liza drives all night to be at Molly’s side—but when she arrives, the reception is icy, leaving Liza baffled and hurt. She knows there’s no denying what she saw.

Or is there?

In disbelief that their friendship could really be over, Liza is unaware she’s about to have a near miss of her own.

And Molly, refusing to deal with what’s happened, won’t turn to Daniel, either.

But none of them can go on pretending. Not after this.

Jessica Strawser’s Forget You Know Me is a “twisty, emotionally complex, powder keg of a tale” (bestselling author Emily Carpenter) about the wounds of people who’ve grown apart. Best, friends, separated by miles. Spouses, hardened by neglect. A mother, isolated by pain.

One moment will change things for them all.

three-half-stars

About Jessica Strawser

Jessica Strawser is the Editor-at-Large for Writer’s Digest magazine, where she served as editorial director for nearly a decade. Her debut novel, ALMOST MISSED YOU (St. Martin’s Press), was a Barnes & Noble Best New Fiction Selection upon its March 2017 release, as well as a She Reads Book Club Selection and a PopSugar Best Spring Read. Her second, NOT THAT I COULD TELL, was a bestselling Book of the Month selection for March 2018, and is now new in paperback and available at Target stores nationwide, with a bonus Reading Group Gold guide included.

Her latest novel of domestic suspense, FORGET YOU KNOW ME, released Feb. 5, 2019, from St. Martin’s Press, having been named to “Best Of” and “Most Anticipated” lists from Goodreads, PopSugar, BookBub, and elsewhere. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls the novel “masterful,” saying, “fans of well-written suspense are in for a treat.”

Her diverse career in the publishing industry spans nearly two decades and includes stints in book editing, marketing and public relations, and freelance writing and editing. A Pittsburgh native and “Outstanding Senior” graduate of Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, she counts her New York Times Modern Love essay and her Writer’s Digest cover interviews with such luminaries as Alice Walker, Anne Tyler and David Sedaris among her career highlights. She lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband and two children, and has recently been named the 2019 Writer-in-Residence for the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

A proud member of the Tall Poppy Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association, she tweets @jessicastrawser, enjoys connecting at Facebook.com/jessicastrawserauthor, and speaks frequently at writing conferences and events that are kind enough to invite her.

Visit jessicastrawser.com to learn more, read some of her work and sign up for her email list to receive occasional updates and hellos.