Posts

Thriller Thursday Reviews: Not A Happy Family & The Perfect Family

 

Happy Thriller Thursday!   Sharon here, and this week’s theme is dysfunctional families LOL. Today I am reviewing Shari Lapena’s new book Not a Happy Family and Robyn Harding’s new book The Perfect Family and let me just say, I thought my family had some issues but compared to the families in these books, my family looks like The Brady Bunch 🙂

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: Not A Happy Family & The Perfect FamilyNot a Happy Family Goodreads

Author: Shari Lapena

Publication Date: July 27, 2021

Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books

Shari Lapena’s newest novel Not a Happy Family follows the dysfunctional wealthy Merton family. Fred and Sheila Merton were brutally murdered in their home the night after a disastrous Easter dinner with their adult children, Catherine, Dan and Jenna. As the police begin their investigation, they obviously start with their children, who stand to inherit millions and who each had a motive for wanting their parents dead.

Catherine is the oldest and knew that she would be inheriting the family home one day, that is until their father announced at Easter dinner that he was selling the house.

Dan has never had a good relationship with his father. Dan expected to take over the family business one day, that is until Fred sold it because he didn’t think Dan would be able to handle running it. So now after a few bad investments Dan needs money and asks his father for a loan on the night of Easter only to have his father tell him in no uncertain terms No!

Jenna is an artist; she likes to sculpt images of women’s anatomy, much to her parents’ dismay. She gets a monthly allowance from her parents. But they have decided it is time to cut her off.

Fred was not the best father. He got great joy in causing emotional pain to his children. And Sheila was not a very comforting mother; she left that job to their housekeeper Irene. So, it was not very surprising that the children were not overly devastated by their parents’ death.  They all have alibis for the night their parents died, well according to each of their spouses they did.  But those alibis are soon unraveled.

The siblings are not extremely close, but when the police start narrowing their suspicions onto them, they do rally around each other. Even though they figured one of them was the killer and they could have easily thrown each other under the bus, they stuck together. They figured which ever one of them was the killer did them a favor by getting rid of their toxic parents and made them all rich at the same time. Okay it was a bit of a twisted way of thinking, but hey they are family and are sticking together.

I liked the perspectives we got from each of them and watching them sweat when the investigation got to close to one of them.

As the police keep hitting walls as they try and figure out which of the siblings is the killer, they get some help from Fred’s sister Audrey. She has never really liked Catherine, Dan and Jenna, so she is more than happy to spill all the family secrets. And the Merton’s have a lot of secrets.

I really cannot say much more because I don’t want to spoil anything, I will say this book was full of twists and turns that had me all over the place on who I thought did it. Every time I thought I had it figured out, a twist would happen to point me in a different direction. I was completely clueless when the killer was finally revealed.  And without giving anything away, I love how Shari Lapena ended this book.

If you like stories that center around dysfunctional families and that keep you guessing throughout, I recommend Shari Lapena’s Not a Happy Family.   4 stars

 

Thriller Thursday Reviews: Not A Happy Family & The Perfect FamilyThe Perfect Family Goodreads

Author: Robyn Harding

Publication Date: August 10, 2021

Publisher: Gallery Books

Robyn Harding’s newest novel The Perfect Family, is full of unlikeable characters and a train wreck of a family, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

The Perfect Family follows the Adler family, Thomas, a real estate agent; his wife Viv, an interior designer; their twenty year old Son, Eli; and seventeen year old daughter, Tarryn. Thomas and Viv have tried to create the image of a perfect family, from their jobs, their cars, their home, and their children. But their perfect world is about to come crashing down. One morning when they wake up, they find their house has been egged. Thomas insists that it is just teenagers. But then a smoke bomb is thrown at their house, their car tires are slashed, and someone has set fire to their hedges. The police cannot help them since they don’t know who is doing this and even the surveillance cameras they installed only show a shadowy figure in a hoodie. Why is someone targeting the Adlers? Well, the answer to that question lies in the secrets they each have.

I don’t want to give much away about what secrets they each have. Even though they are not real spoilers, I think it is still best to figure them out on your own because as each family member’s secret is revealed to the reader it adds more to the mystery to who is behind the attacks on the Adler family.  As each secret was revealed, I would switch my thinking on what I thought was going on and why.

The Adlers are such a dysfunctional family and none of them came across as sympathetic, even after their secrets were revealed. They are all so sure that their secret cannot be the reason the attacks are happening, that they are all quick to point the finger at each other. Tarryn had the finger pointed at her the most. Her parents were so sure that these pranks were the act of teenagers, so it had to be someone that she made mad at some point. When I learned each of their secrets all I could think of was “You are blaming Tarryn when you are hiding that?” They were all such hypocrites.

I love how Robin Harding slowly revealed bits of information, it wasn’t all just a big data dump. She had my attention fully as I couldn’t wait to find out more about each of the Adler’s secrets and what else was going to happen to them. And even though I don’t think any of the characters were very likeable, I love how Harding gave them each a voice. The book is told from each of their POV’s and I really liked getting into their thoughts and couldn’t wait to find out what they were hiding.

The Perfect Family was a suspenseful read, with many twists that will keep you guessing until the end. If you are a fan of Robin Harding, I think you will enjoy this as much as I did.  3 ½ stars

ARC Review: The Party by Robyn Harding

ARC Review:  The Party by Robyn HardingThe Party by Robyn Harding
four-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on June 6th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

Goodreads Synopsis:  In this stunning and provocative domestic drama about a sweet sixteen birthday party that goes horribly awry, a wealthy family in San Francisco finds their picture-perfect life unraveling, their darkest secrets revealed, and their friends turned to enemies.

One invitation. A lifetime of regrets.

Sweet sixteen. It’s an exciting coming of age, a milestone, and a rite of passage. Jeff and Kim Sanders plan on throwing a party for their daughter, Hannah—a sweet girl with good grades and nice friends. Rather than an extravagant, indulgent affair, they invite four girls over for pizza, cake, movies, and a sleepover. What could possibly go wrong?

But things do go wrong, horrifically so. After a tragic accident occurs, Jeff and Kim’s flawless life in a wealthy San Francisco suburb suddenly begins to come apart. In the ugly aftermath, friends become enemies, dark secrets are revealed in the Sanders’ marriage, and the truth about their perfect daughter, Hannah, is exposed.

Harkening to Herman Koch’s The Dinner, Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap, and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, The Party takes us behind the façade of the picture-perfect family, exposing the lies, betrayals, and moral lapses that neighbors don’t see—and the secrets that children and parents keep from themselves and each other.

 

MY REVIEW

I wasn’t at all sure what to expect when I started reading Robyn Harding’s The Party.  I was looking for what I liked to call a guilty pleasure or indulgent read, and when I saw this book advertised as something fans of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies would enjoy, I knew The Party was the book I was looking for.

And wow, what a ride it took me on! It actually surprised me how much I enjoyed it because, truth be told, none of the characters are especially likeable and they all made such bad choices throughout the story that I found myself literally wanting to scream at them.  But still, there was just something almost intoxicating about watching this domestic drama play out.

The story begins on a simple note when Kim and Jeff Sanders, a wealthy couple who have what appears to be a picture perfect life in an affluent community in San Francisco, decide they want to throw their daughter, Hannah, a Sweet Sixteen party.  Their version of a Sweet Sixteen party, however, is Hannah being allowed to invite a few of her best girl friends from school over for pizza and a sleepover.  Sounds innocent enough, right?  What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Hannah’s parents have no idea that she is desperately trying to climb her way up the social ladder at school and wants to be a part of the “Mean Girls” crowd.  Hannah knows that if she’s going to be accepted by the coolest girls in school, she is going to have to step up her party game. Pizza and a slumber party just isn’t going to cut it.  Once the girls arrive and Kim lays down her list of rules – no alcohol, no drugs, no boys, etc., the girls are left to their own devices, which includes breaking pretty much every house rule that was laid out for them.  The next thing Kim and Jeff know, it’s the middle of the night and Hannah is standing in their bedroom, crying and covered in blood. There has been a terrible accident…

The rest of the novel follows the Sanders family as their lives are laid bare in the wake of this accident, which has left a girl, Ronni, permanently disfigured.  Ronni’s mother goes on the attack, determined to make Kim and Jeff pay for what has happened to her daughter, and their friends take sides as some think they are culpable for what happened regardless of having laid down the house rules prior to leaving the girls unattended.  In the wake of an impending lawsuit, family secrets and mistakes from the past resurface to haunt them, and as the layers are peeled away from the façade of the Sanders’ lives, it appears that Kim and Jeff’s perfect life isn’t nearly as perfect as it seemed on the surface.  It also appears that many in the community are taking great pleasure in watching them, especially Kim, fall.

Ironically though, even though everyone is basically ganging up on them, it’s still nearly impossible to feel any sympathy for the Sanders because as if the party itself wasn’t a bad enough situation, they continue to make horrible decisions from that point forward.  Kim walks around acting self-righteous and denying that they are in anyway responsible.  Some of the things she says about Ronni and especially her mother are just completely out of line, considering the circumstance.  And Jeff is no better.  He spends his time trying to hide the fact that after Kim laid down the house rules the night of the party, he snuck back to the party and gave the girls a bottle of champagne so they could properly celebrate Hannah’s milestone birthday.  He begs all of the girls involved not to rat him out and somehow accidently leads one of them on so that she starts sending him inappropriate texts, etc., all of which would make him look awful if it were to ever come out because of the lawsuit.  Every time he responded to her, I just wanted to yell at him to stop being such an idiot.

I almost got to the point where I thought they deserved whatever happened to them because they were both such annoying characters.  On the flip side though, although I felt sympathy for the girl who was disfigured, I was only semi-sympathetic to the way her mother went on the attack, determined not just to do what she could to take care of her daughter, but also hell bent on doing whatever she could to actually ruin the Sanders in every way possible.

 

LIKES

Okay, so if I didn’t like any of the characters, what did I like about The Party?  As I said, I was looking for a guilty pleasure read when I selected this book and I got exactly what I wanted. The story reads like a mashup of Big Little Lies, Mean Girls, with a side of Desperate Housewives thrown in for added flavor.  It’s a truly fascinating look at just how ugly and mean people can be.

And even though I didn’t like any of the characters, I still liked the way they were written.  They were all flawed and therefore utterly human. I also found everything that happened to be pretty relatable and realistic in the sense that all of the things that went wrong – the party, the accident, and all of the ensuing drama and meanness, etc. — could easily play out in any community, as could the bullying that took place at Hannah’s school once Ronni was deemed not pretty enough to hang around with the “cool” kids anymore.

I loved the pacing of the story too. There was never a dull moment because there was constant drama unfolding from all sides as I waited to see if the Sanders would ultimately be held legally responsible for what happened at the party and regardless, how they would begin to put their lives back together after the character assassination they faced from the victim’s mother and her attorneys.

I also liked that the story was told from multiple points of view, including Hannah, Jeff, Kim, as well as others in the community.  Seeing what was driving each character really fleshed out the story and made the drama that much juicier.

 

DISLIKES

The only real dislike I had was the ending.  I can’t say much about it without giving it away, but it was not a satisfying ending for me. I wanted lessons to be learned from what had happened, and while I think some of the characters did learn and grow, the one I wanted to learn and grow the most apparently learned nothing. The ending was shocking and unexpected so in that sense was highly entertaining, but I was still a little disappointed.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re a fan of domestic dramas like Big Little Lies or Desperate Housewives and don’t mind characters who aren’t especially likeable, I’d say The Party is well worth a read.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

 

four-stars

About Robyn Harding

Robyn Harding is the author of several books and has written and executive produced an independent film. She lives in Vancouver, BC with her husband and two children.