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Review: FIRST CUT by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell

Review:  FIRST CUT by Judy Melinek & T.J. MitchellFirst Cut by Judy Melinek, T.J. Mitchell
four-stars
Published by Hanover Square Press on January 7, 2020
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Mystery/Thriller Blog Tour.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on FIRST CUT by Judy Melinek & T.J. Mitchell.

First Cut is a gritty, fast-paced medical thriller that follows Dr. Jessie Teska, a scrappy medical examiner who has just taken a new job in San Francisco. Jessie doesn’t want to rock the boat since she’s new and because she desperately needs the job, but when one of her very first cases goes from looking like a woman who died from an accidental drug overdose to a straight up murder, Jessie surprisingly finds herself at odds with her supervisor.  While Jessie wants to dig deeper to find out what really happened to the young woman, especially after she starts to see connections between her case and a couple of others in the morgue, her supervisor is trying to force her to close the case immediately and sign off on it as an accidental death.  Why?

I thought Jessie was such a great character.  She’s incredibly competent in her work and very professional, but she’s also one of those complex, messy types that I love so much.  I was intrigued by the hints of a troubled past that drove her to leave her home and start over in San Francisco, and I especially loved how stubborn she was and how determined she was to find out what happened to the victim in her case, even if it meant butting heads with her superiors.  I loved that when her superiors try to force her to back off, she pushes back even harder because now she wants to know why they want the case closed when there are clearly still more questions than answers. Jessie is the quintessential scrappy little underdog that you can’t help but cheer on in her relentless pursuit of the truth.

In addition to creating such a fantastic protagonist, the authors also craft an utterly gripping plot that takes the reader into the deep underbelly of the drug trafficking world.  The writing is raw and real, drawing from author Judy Melinek’s experience working in forensic pathology. The story was also fast-paced and well written, with lots of intricate and seemingly unrelated threads that gradually get woven together as Jessie gets closer and closer to the truth. Just a small word of warning regarding the writing – First Cut does feature some pretty graphic autopsy scenes. While this isn’t surprising, based on the nature of the book, I still wanted to give a head’s up in case some readers get squeamish about blood and other bodily fluids.

If the world of forensic pathology is of interest to you and you like a good twisty thriller, you should add First Cut to your reading list.

PURCHASE LINKS:

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundKoboTarget – iBooksGoogle – Books-A-Million

 

SUMMARY:

Wife and husband duo Dr. Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell first enthralled the book world with their runaway bestselling memoir Working Stiff—a fearless account of a young forensic pathologist’s “rookie season” as a NYC medical examiner. This winter, Dr. Melinek, now a prominent forensic pathologist in the Bay Area, once again joins forces with writer T.J. Mitchell to take their first stab at fiction.

The result: FIRST CUT (Hanover Square Press; Hardcover; January 7, 2020; $26.99)—a gritty and compelling crime debut about a hard-nosed San Francisco medical examiner who uncovers a dangerous conspiracy connecting the seedy underbelly of the city’s nefarious opioid traffickers and its ever-shifting terrain of tech startups.

Dr. Jessie Teska has made a chilling discovery. A suspected overdose case contains hints of something more sinister: a drug lord’s attempt at a murderous cover up. As more bodies land on her autopsy table, Jessie uncovers a constellation of deaths that point to an elaborate network of powerful criminals—on both sides of the law—that will do anything to keep things buried. But autopsy means “see for yourself,” and Jessie Teska won’t stop until she’s seen it all—even if it means the next corpse on the slab could be her own.

 

four-stars

About Judy Melinek

Judy Melinek was an assistant medical examiner in San Francisco for nine years, and today works as a forensic pathologist in Oakland and as CEO of PathologyExpert Inc. She and T.J. Mitchell met as undergraduates at Harvard, after which she studied medicine and practiced pathology at UCLA. Her training in forensics at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner is the subject of their first book, the memoir Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner.

About T.J. Mitchell

T.J. Mitchell is a writer with an English degree from Harvard, and worked in the film industry before becoming a full-time stay-at-home dad. He is the New York Times bestselling co-author of Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner with his wife, Judy Melinek.

Review: GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. Ellison

Review:  GOOD GIRLS LIE by J.T. EllisonGood Girls Lie by J.T. Ellison
four-stars
Published by MIRA on December 30, 2019
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
Pages: 464
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

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

 

 

Thanks so much to Justine Sha for inviting me to take part in Harlequin Trade Publishing’s Winter 2020 Mystery/Thriller Blog Tour.  Today I’m sharing my thoughts on J.T. Ellison’s latest thriller, GOOD GIRLS LIE.

Those who follow my blog know that I’m always on the lookout for a good thriller.  I love reads that are filled with suspense and intrigue and that keep me guessing from start to finish.  I had never read one of J.T. Ellison’s thrillers and was primarily drawn to Good Girls Lie because it’s set in my home state of Virginia, but after flying through the pages of this novel, I can say without hesitation that J.T. Ellison has joined the ranks of Ruth Ware, Riley Sager, and the legendary Agatha Christie as one of my favorite thriller authors.

It’s always hard to talk about a thriller without giving away spoilers, so I just want to touch on a few highlights that made this read such a win for me.

  • If you enjoy reads that are set in boarding schools, Good Girls Lie is your book. It’s set in an elite all girls’ boarding school called Goode Academy nestled in the hills of Central Virginia, and I just loved how atmospheric this setting is. The school itself has an illustrious past – a student was murdered there years ago and rumors abound that the school grounds are haunted.  Supernatural elements aside, the school also has secret societies with bizarre initiation rituals, as well as its fair share of mean girls and hazing.  The girls at this school are destined for the Ivy Leagues and greatness, if they can survive their time at Goode Academy.
  • I love a story that captivates my attention from the very first page and Good Girls Lie definitely fits the bill. The opening scene of the novel features a dead student hanging from the school’s front gates, which of course immediately caught my attention and started an internal barrage of questions:  Who is she? How did she get up there?  Is it suicide or something more sinister? If she was murdered, who would do such a thing and why?  Death is tragic enough, but when it’s the death of a young person, a promising life cut short, it just pulls at my heartstrings all the more. I was completely engaged from this opening scene because I just had to know what happened to lead up to such a devastating moment.
  • I’m always drawn to characters who are flawed and complicated and J.T. Ellison has a cast of them in this book, my favorite of which is Ash Carlisle, a new student at the school who is struggling to find her place and fit in. She has come to Virginia from England and we soon learn that both of Ash’s parents recently died unexpectedly and that she has no other family.  It’s easy to feel sympathetic toward Ash because she’s all alone in the world and trying to find herself while maintaining some semblance of privacy.  Ash becomes an even more interesting character, however, as we realize that not everything is as it seems.
  • “Not everything is as it seems” is actually a recurring theme with Good Girls Lie and it’s what really kept the suspense ramped up and had me turning pages well into the night because I wanted answers and kept getting more and more twists and turns instead. Everyone in this book seems to have something they’re hiding and it was just such an entertaining read to watch the story unfold and all of their secrets unravel.
  • I will say that I ultimately wasn’t too surprised by the novel’s final reveal. Even though the reveal itself didn’t have huge shock value, the journey to get to it was well worth it.  I loved how intricately plotted the entire story was and how each piece gradually slipped into place to lead to the reveal.  Ellison’s ability to weave together the many tangled threads of this story and its characters into a cohesive and engaging read is on point.

If you’re looking for a dark and twisty mystery to keep you on the edge of your seat, J.T. Ellison’s Good Girls Lie is a must read.  Be sure to check it out when it hits bookshelves on December 30th!

 

PURCHASE LINKS:  

HarlequinAmazonBarnes & NobleIndie BoundiBooksBooks-A-MillionTargetKoboGoogle Books

 

SUMMARY:

Perched atop a hill in the tiny town of Marchburg, Virginia, The Goode School is a prestigious prep school known as a Silent Ivy. The boarding school of choice for daughters of the rich and influential, it accepts only the best and the brightest. Its elite status, long-held traditions and honor code are ideal for preparing exceptional young women for brilliant futures at Ivy League universities and beyond. But a stranger has come to Goode, and this ivy has turned poisonous.

In a world where appearances are everything, as long as students pretend to follow the rules, no one questions the cruelties of the secret societies or the dubious behavior of the privileged young women who expect to get away with murder. But when a popular student is found dead, the truth cannot be ignored. Rumors suggest she was struggling with a secret that drove her to suicide.

But look closely…because there are truths and there are lies, and then there is everything that really happened.

J.T. Ellison’s pulse-pounding new novel examines the tenuous bonds of friendship, the power of lies and the desperate lengths people will go to to protect their secrets.

 

J.T. ELLISON GOOD GIRLS LIE BOOK TOUR

 

  

four-stars

About J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 20 novels, and the EMMY-award winning co-host of A WORD ON WORDS, Nashville’s premier literary show. With millions of books in print, her work has won critical acclaim, prestigious awards, and has been published in 26 countries. Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens.

Review: THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth Ware

Review:  THE TURN OF THE KEY by Ruth WareThe Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware
Also by this author: The Death of Mrs. Westaway
four-stars
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on August 6, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 337
Source: Purchased
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Book Depository
Goodreads

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TURN OF THE KEY Review

 

“Don’t come here…It’s not safe…The ghosts wouldn’t like it…”

 

As soon as I read that line, I knew that Ruth Ware’s latest novel, The Turn of the Key, was exactly the kind of creepy, spooky read I was looking for.  The novel follows former nanny and current prison inmate, Rowan Caine. Rowan has been charged with murdering one of the children she was supposed to be taking care of and is in prison awaiting her trial.  When the novel opens, we are presented with a letter she is writing to an attorney, in hopes of persuading him to take her case. The story of what has happened to land Rowan in prison then unfolds through the pages of her letter.

I loved the way Ware uses this letter to frame the entire story because it immediately sets Rowan up as an unreliable narrator. She’s desperately trying to plead her case to this attorney so of course she’s going to try to paint herself as innocently as possible. Rowan comes off as convincing overall though, describing several times throughout her letter how she was, at times, a flat-out terrible nanny.  I found her flawed yet mostly believable so she captured my sympathy pretty easily and made me want to find out what really happened.

So, what really did happen?  I don’t want to give anything away since this is a thriller so I’m just going to talk about the setup a bit, which I thought was fantastic. Rowan is job hunting and comes across an ad for a live-in nanny at a home in the gorgeous Scottish Highlands. The salary is surprisingly high and everything about the job sounds perfect, almost too good to be true.  Rowan interviews for the position and meets the children she’ll be taking care of and it’s one of the children who tells her “Don’t come here…It’s not safe…The ghosts wouldn’t like it…”  While this doesn’t exactly give Rowan warm fuzzies, she takes the job anyway.  And of course, in true thriller fashion, finds out almost immediately that it is, in fact, too good to be true and every nanny that has worked there before her has abruptly quit and moved out.  The question is why and how do we get from that point all the way to the point where Rowan is in jail accused of murdering a child and all I’m going to say is that it’s a nightmare for Rowan and one heck of a ride for the reader!

What really hooked me on this story though is how atmospheric it is.  Ware is a master of creating these creepy, sinister, almost Gothic settings and that’s the vibe that the house and its surrounding grounds have. There’s even a forbidden garden on the property that is filled with poisonous plants.  The owners tell Rowan that it belonged to the previous owners, but for goodness sakes, as parents with small children, wouldn’t you think they would have that ripped up and removed for safety reasons?  Needless to say, I was not a big fan of the parents in this book.

In an interesting twist, Ware cleverly offsets the creepy Gothic vibe of the house and grounds by making the house a “smart” house with all of the latest technological advances.  The current owners are architects so it’s their “smart” design and they have the whole house set up and controlled by an app called Happy.  Even when they’re out of town, the parents can pop in unannounced via speaker and they also have numerous cameras set up throughout the house so that they can see anything at any time.  Imagine Alexa only creepier because of what it can do and how easy it is to invade someone’s privacy.  It’s also pretty glitchy so unexpected things happen frequently, which gives Rowan the feeling that the house and Happy are out to get her as soon as the parents go out of town and she is left to fend for herself.

When things really start to go bump in the night is where Ware really excels in The Turn of the Key. She had me on the edge of my seat as Rowan is initially terrified by what she keeps hearing in the house and then ultimately furious about it and determined to get to the bottom of it.  There are twists and turns galore and enough suspense that it had me reading late into the night and then imagining that I was hearing similar sounds in my own home.  The pacing is perfect too, especially if you’re looking for a quick read.  I devoured The Turn of the Key in just a couple of sittings.

This is the third novel I’ve read from Ruth Ware and while it wasn’t my favorite – that honor still goes to In a Dark, Dark Wood – it’s a very close second.  If you’re in the mood for a creepy read with lots of twists and turns, Ruth Ware’s The Turn of the Key is a must-read!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Woman in Cabin 10The Lying Game, and The Death of Mrs. Westaway comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fifth novel.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

four-stars

Review: THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS by Lisa Jewell

Review:  THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS by Lisa JewellThe Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Also by this author: Watching You
four-stars
Published by Atria Books on November 5, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 352
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 FAMILY UPSTAIRS Review

 

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell is one of the most riveting thrillers I’ve read so far this year.  What I love about Jewell’s novels is that she does such a tremendous job of creating tension, building suspense, and weaving in enough twists and turns to keep me guessing all the way to the big reveal.  What especially drew me to The Family Upstairs was the promise of a domestic drama filled with dark family secrets and Jewell does not disappoint.

I was immediately immersed in the seemingly unrelated lives of her three main characters and couldn’t wait to see how Jewell ultimately brought them all together and had their lives intertwine.  Twenty-five year old Libby Jones is one of the three main characters.  When the novel opens, Libby has just unexpectedly inherited a mansion worth millions from her birth parents, who died when she was an infant.  When Libby learns some of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her parents’ deaths and what had been going on in the house prior to their deaths, including whisperings about a cult and about some missing children, she becomes determined to learn the truth about her parents and thus begins to investigate.  Libby is a sweet, likable character and I completely understood why she wanted to know the truth about what happened to her parents.  It has been a huge hole in her family history for 25 years now that needs to be filled.

In addition to Libby, the story also unfolds from the perspective of two other characters, Lucy and Henry, who on the surface, appear to have no connection whatsoever to Libby.  When we meet Lucy, she is living on the streets with her two children.  As we follow her, we start to learn more about her past and about how she has ended up in the desperate spot she finds herself in.  When we meet Henry, he seems a little off, like he might be struggling with some sort of mental health issue.  He spends much of his time dwelling on his own past and the fact that his parents fell victim to scammers and lost their (and by extension, his) fortune.  As with Libby, I found myself completely invested in these character’s lives and desperately wanting to know how Libby, Lucy, and Henry would fit together by the end of the book.

I loved how Jewell kept me guessing throughout the story. Every time I thought I had established a connection or figured out an identity, she would throw a monkey wrench into my hypothesis and I’d have to rethink things.  I also loved having the creepy house where people died and all of its surrounding mystery in the background as well. There was plenty of suspense and atmosphere and, at times, the story read as part psychological thriller, part domestic drama, with a side of horror thrown in.

If creepy houses, mysterious deaths and disappearances, and dark family secrets pique your curiosity, Lisa Jewell’s The Family Upstairs is a must-read for you.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From the New York Times bestselling author of Then She Was Gone and Watching You comes another page-turning look inside one family’s past as buried secrets threaten to come to light.

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

In The Family Upstairs, the master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.

four-stars

About Lisa Jewell

Lisa was born in London in 1968. Her mother was a secretary and her father was a textile agent and she was brought up in the northernmost reaches of London with her two younger sisters. She was educated at a Catholic girls’ Grammar school in Finchley. After leaving school at sixteen she spent two years at Barnet College doing an arts foundation course and then two years at Epsom School of Art & Design studying Fashion Illustration and Communication.

She worked for the fashion chain Warehouse for three years as a PR assistant and then for Thomas Pink, the Jermyn Street shirt company for four years as a receptionist and PA. She started her first novel, Ralph’s Party, for a bet in 1996. She finished it in 1997 and it was published by Penguin books in May 1998. It went on to become the best-selling debut novel of that year.

She has since written a further nine novels, as is currently at work on her eleventh.

She now lives in an innermost part of north London with her husband Jascha, an IT consultant, her daughters, Amelie and Evie and her silver tabbies, Jack and Milly.

Review: THE SHAPE OF NIGHT by Tess Gerritsen

Review:  THE SHAPE OF NIGHT by Tess GerritsenThe Shape of Night by Tess Gerritsen
three-half-stars
Published by Ballantine Books on October 1, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal
Pages: 288
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 SHAPE OF NIGHT Review

 

I’ve been a fan of Tess Gerritsen’s novels for years, especially her Rizzoli and Isles thriller series, so when I saw she had a new novel coming out, The Shape of Night, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

The Shape of Night is set in a remote coastal town in Maine where the protagonist, food writer Ava Collette, has rented a house, in hopes of escaping her troubles so that she can focus on finishing her latest cookbook, which is way overdue to her publishers.  The home, Brodie’s Watch, is named after its original owner Captain Jeremiah Brodie, who died at sea over 150 years ago. When Ava firsts arrives at Brodie’s Watch, the outside does not look at all like the quiet, peaceful spot she was hoping for.  Instead, it actually looks quite menacing and unwelcoming.  Once inside, however, it’s exactly what Ava was hoping for and so she settles in quickly, feeling at peace with the place.

That is, until she starts feeling like she’s being watched.  And not only that, she also starts hearing strange noises and seeing things at night that have her questioning her own sanity.  When she also starts to find random personal items that clearly belonged to the prior tenant, Ava contacts her realtor to see about forwarding the items to the prior tenant and to try to get some answers about the house.  The realtor gives her the runaround at first but then finally admits that the prior tenant left very abruptly and without explanation. Unsatisfied with the answers she is given, Ava starts to do some digging to learn as much as she can about the house and its prior owners.  What she finds regarding the prior owners is not only incredibly disturbing, but it could actually end up costing Ava her life.

While The Shape of Night is quite different from those Rizzoli and Isles novels I love so much because it features a paranormal element, it still kept me on the edge of my seat with the riveting mystery of what is going on at Brodie’s Watch.  I was very engrossed in the mystery of the house and whether or not it was actually haunted, and so found Ava’s investigation very entertaining.  I was also very invested in the character of Ava and wanted to know more about what had happened in her personal life to have her fleeing to such a remote location and avoiding phone calls from her friends and family.

I also loved the creepy, atmospheric, almost Gothic feel that Brodie’s Watch has at night and all of the supernatural touches that Gerritsen has added.  Ava’s paranoia about what she was experiencing was also quite contagious and had me looking over my own shoulder to make sure no one was watching me!

All in all, this was a gripping read that I was able to fly through in just a couple of sittings.  My only real issue with the book was that there were some sexual scenes in the book that I could have done without. They didn’t really add anything to the storyline and were a little more graphic than necessary, veering into BDSM territory.  Even with that issue though, it was definitely still a very solid read for me.

If you’re into mysteries and/or paranormal stories, Tess Gerritsen’s The Shape of Night may be exactly the book you’re looking for.  It’s a perfect read for fall!

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

A woman trying to outrun her past is drawn to a quiet coastal town in Maine–and to a string of unsolved murders–in this haunting tale of romantic suspense from New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen.

Ava Collette is punishing herself for an unspeakable tragedy. So she flees Boston and rents an old home named Brodie’s Watch on a remote coastal peninsula of Maine, hoping to work on a cookbook inspired by New England cuisine that she’s been trying to finish for months. She immediately feels at peace in the isolated house–until she starts to hear strange noises.

Rumor has it that a sea captain named Brodie has haunted the house for decades. Then, one night, Ava is awakened to find herself face to face with an apparition who looks–and feels–all too real. Meanwhile, there’s been a series of accidental deaths nearby that don’t add up. And as Ava starts to check into the previous renter’s mysterious disappearance, she starts to realize that there’s a disturbing secret some in town are desperate to keep hidden.

Soon all of Ava’s waking hours are consumed by her investigation, and her nights are ignited by Captain Brodie’s ghostly visits. But even as she questions her own sanity, she knows she must uncover the truth before a killer strikes again.

three-half-stars

About Tess Gerritsen

Internationally bestselling author Tess Gerritsen took an unusual route to a writing career. A graduate of Stanford University, Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was awarded her M.D.

While on maternity leave from her work as a physician, she began to write fiction. In 1987, her first novel was published. Call After Midnight, a romantic thriller, was followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, “Adrift”, which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson.

Tess’s first medical thriller, Harvest, was released in hardcover in 1996, and it marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Her suspense novels since then have been: Life Support (1997), Bloodstream (1998), Gravity (1999), The Surgeon (2001), The Apprentice (2002), The Sinner (2003), Body Double (2004), Vanish (2005), The Mephisto Club (2006), and The Bone Garden (2007). Her books have been translated into 31 languages, and more than 15 million copies have been sold around the world.

As well as being a New York Times bestselling author, she has also been a #1 bestseller in both Germany and the UK. She has won both the Nero Wolfe Award (for Vanish) and the Rita Award (for The Surgeon.) Critics around the world have praised her novels as “Pulse-pounding fun” (Philadelphia Inquirer), “Scary and brilliant” (Toronto Globe and Mail), and “Polished, riveting prose” (Chicago Tribune). Publisher Weekly has dubbed her the “medical suspense queen”.

Now retired from medicine, she writes full time. She lives in Maine.

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: WHEREVER SHE GOES by Kelley Armstrong

Review:  WHEREVER SHE GOES by Kelley ArmstrongWherever She Goes by Kelley Armstrong
three-half-stars
Published by Minotaur Books on June 25, 2019
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
Pages: 292
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..

 

 

 

 

 

WHEREVER SHE GOES Review

 

Kelley Armstrong’s newest book Wherever She Goes is a gripping psychological thriller that explores the lengths one woman will go to when she believes the police aren’t doing their jobs.

Single mom Aubrey Finch is in the neighborhood park one day and meets a young woman and her little boy.  After some brief small talk, they go their separate ways, but the next time, Aubrey is in the park, she sees the same little boy being pulled unwillingly in an SUV which then speeds away.  There’s no sign of his mother anywhere, so panicked and concerned for the boy’s safety, Aubrey phones the police.  When they arrive on the scene, the reaction Aubrey gets is not at all what she is expecting.  Because there’s no parent around reporting that their child has been abducted, the police refuse to believe Aubrey’s story and even go so far as to accuse her of being a mentally unstable attention seeker.  Aubrey knows what she saw, and so, frustrated by law enforcement’s lack of action, she decides to take matters into her own hands to bring the little boy home safely…

Wow, what a wild ride this was.  I had tremendous sympathy for Aubrey for so many reasons.  I can’t even imagine trying to report something as important as a child abduction to the police and having them blow me off.  I also honestly can’t imagine law enforcement behaving so irresponsibly, but it definitely serves as an effective device to move the story along and spur Aubrey into amateur sleuth mode.  Even more so than the way she was treated by the police, however, my sympathy for Aubrey lies in the fact that she is newly divorced and trying to make it on her own without help from anyone.  Her own child is living with her ex-husband full time now (Aubrey’s idea) because she’s living in a not-so-great neighborhood where the rent is cheap in hopes of saving up money for a better home that is more suitable for a child.  I commend her for her independence in this matter but also felt bad for her because not having custody of her child immediately opens her up to all kinds of judgment from strangers.  Everyone assumes she has done something terrible to not have her child living with her.

Aubrey also has her fair share of secrets that she has been hiding for years.  I’ll admit that the fact she’s hiding something about herself, coupled with the way people kept questioning her sanity did give me pause as to whether or not Aubrey was a reliable narrator.  I liked her so much though that I wanted her to be right so I was glued to the book to see what, if anything, she would find when she started looking for proof that there really was an abduction.  The author does a fantastic job building up suspense here because when Aubrey starts trying to locate the woman she met in the park that day, she opens up a can of worms that is way more than she bargained for.

My only real complaint about Wherever She Goes is that I actually felt more invested in Aubrey’s personal dramas and in finding out about her past than I did in the abduction storyline.  Both were interesting, of course, but the witnessing of a crime and having no one believe your story just felt a little stale to me, like it has been done many times before (The Girl on the Train and The Woman in the Window immediately come to mind).  Aubrey’s personal story grabbed my attention and held it more since it was the more unique of the two.

Even with that one little quibble though, Wherever She Goes is still a very entertaining read.  There were plenty of plot twists to keep me guessing and I found the ending to be very satisfying.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys psychological thrillers and domestic dramas.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

From New York Times bestselling author Kelley Armstrong comes a brand new psychological thriller about the lengths one woman will go to in order to save a child.

“Few crimes are reported as quickly as a snatched kid.”

That’s what the officer tells single mother Aubrey Finch after she reports a kidnapping. So why hasn’t anyone reported the little boy missing? Aubrey knows what she saw: a boy being taken against his will from the park. It doesn’t matter that the mother can’t be found. It doesn’t matter if no one reported it. Aubrey knows he’s missing.

Instead, people question her sanity. Aubrey hears the whispers. She’s a former stay-at-home mom who doesn’t have primary custody of her daughter, so there must be something wrong with her, right? Others may not understand her decision to walk away from her safe life at home, but years of hiding her past – even from the people she loves – were taking their toll, and Aubrey knows she can’t be the mother or wife she envisions until she learns to leave her secrets behind.

When the police refuse to believe her, she realizes that rescuing the boy is up to her alone. But after all the secrets, how far is she willing to go? Even to protect a child.

three-half-stars

About Kelley Armstrong

Kelley Armstrong has been telling stories since before she could write. Her earliest written efforts were disastrous. If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers’ dismay. All efforts to make her produce “normal” stories failed.

Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon. She’s the author of the NYT-bestselling “Women of the Otherworld” paranormal suspense series and “Darkest Powers” young adult urban fantasy trilogy, as well as the Nadia Stafford crime series. Armstrong lives in southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and far too many pets.

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.

Early Review: YOU OWE ME A MURDER by Eileen Cook

Early Review:  YOU OWE ME A MURDER by Eileen CookYou Owe Me a Murder by Eileen Cook
four-stars
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers on March 5, 2019
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
Pages: 368
Source: Netgalley
Amazon
Goodreads

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

YOU OWE ME A MURDER Review

Eileen Cook’s latest novel You Owe Me a Murder follows 17-year-old Kim, who is traveling to London for a class trip.  Kim initially agrees to go on this trip because her then-boyfriend had signed up to go as well. However, when he later dumps Kim, the trip is suddenly much less appealing to her, especially when she finds out his new girlfriend will also be going on the trip.  Unable to get out of it, Kim tries to make the best of a bad situation and when she strikes up a conversation with Nicki, a young woman from London who will be on their flight too, things suddenly start to look up for her.  Nicki listens sympathetically to Kim’s rants about her ex, and Kim reciprocates as Nicki rants about her mother.  Reminiscent of the book and film Strangers on a Train, Nicki then starts joking around about how they should swap murders, and because it’s keeping her entertained on their long flight, Kim plays along.

When the unexpected happens soon after they arrive in London, and Kim’s ex mysteriously dies, Kim realizes she may have bitten off more than she can handle, especially when she starts getting threatening messages from Nicki, reminding her that she’d better hold up her end of the deal.

Kim is such a great character.  She’s an interesting blend of resourcefulness and vulnerability, and I liked her right away.  Can you imagine anything more awkward than being a teenager stuck on a school trip with your ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend?  It was impossible not to feel sympathetic towards her and hope that she could figure out a way to have a good time in spite of her ex.  It was also easy to see how Kim got in way over her head with Nicki.  Nicki played it off like she’s this cool chick who gets where Kim is coming from, but she’s really a predator who preys on Kim’s obvious misery and naivety and gets her to vent about what a jerk her ex is and how her life would be so much better if he wasn’t around.  When Kim gets off that plane, she feels so much better about her trip, thanks to Nicki, but is completely oblivious as to what she has unintentionally set into motion.

One of my favorite things about You Owe Me a Murder is how it’s presented from Kim’s perspective.  We get her raw emotions as she witnesses her ex-boyfriend dying unexpectedly, followed by the sudden realization as to who is responsible and what it means for her.  Then we get that firsthand look at just how far Nicki has gotten into Kim’s head as she runs through all her options trying to come up with a way out of her predicament.  Her fears are palpable, as is her growing concern that her only way out may actually be to commit a murder.  Kim’s mind racing like this had me racing through the pages and I don’t think the story would have been nearly as effective if it had come to us from any other point of view.

The pacing of You Owe Me a Murder was fantastic as well.  I read it in one day and every time I sat the book down, I couldn’t get back to it fast enough.  Cook does an incredible job of building up the suspense as Kim waits for Nicki’s next move and tries to figure out how to outsmart her.  There was plot twist after plot twist, none of them predictable, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see who would come out on top.

Finally, I also liked that the book left me with so much to think about.  It’s so easy to see how someone could be too trusting and end up being taken advantage of and manipulated like Kim was.  It’s an uneasy thought but one that really resonated with me.

The only issue I had was that I would have liked a little more development of the secondary characters.  Most of them fell flat in comparison to Kim and Nicki.

Eileen Cook’s You Owe Me a Murder is a riveting thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I’d highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good thriller, but especially to anyone who is a fan of either Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train or the Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name.

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS:

Seventeen-year-old Kim gets more than she bargained for when she is set up for murder. Perfect for fans of One of Us is Lying, E. Lockhart, and Gillian Flynn.

17-year-old Kim never expected to plot a murder. But that was before her boyfriend dumped her for another girl. Now, Kim’s stuck on a class trip to London with him and his new soulmate and she can’t help wishing he was a little bit dead, even if she’d never really do that.

But when Kim meets Nicki, a stranger on the plane who’s more than willing to listen to Kim’s woes, things start to look up. Nicki’s got a great sense of humor, and when she jokes about swapping murders, Kim plays along—that is, until Kim’s ex-boyfriend mysteriously dies.

Blackmailed by Nicki to fulfill her end of the deal, Kim will have to commit a murder or take the fall for one.

four-stars

About Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook is a multi-published author with her novels appearing in eight languages. Her books have been optioned for film and TV. She spent most of her teen years wishing she were someone else or somewhere else, which is great training for a writer. She’s an instructor/mentor with The Creative Academy and Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program where she loves helping other writers find their unique story to tell.

Eileen lives in Vancouver with two very naughty dogs.