REVIEW: NO PLACE LIKE HOME, BY REBECCA MUDDIMAN

What would you do if you came home to find someone in your house?

This is the predicament Polly Cooke faces when she returns to her new home. The first weeks in the house had been idyllic, but soon Jacob, a local man, is watching her.

What does he want and why is he so obsessed with Polly?

In a situation where nothing is what it seems, you might end up regretting letting some people in.

Polly, our first person narrator in No Place Like Home, just wants her own house. A home to call her own. Everything she does is directed toward that goal, and just when she thinks she finally has what she wants, everything starts unraveling.

Because Jacob keeps showing up. Then Cathy, the woman at her mother’s care home, stops by uninvited. Why are they all disturbing her and ruining everything?

In the beginning, we feel sorry for Polly, as she tells the story from the past to the present and back again. Her story is a bit confusing at times, suggesting that she might have issues. Is she making everything up? Is there more going on with her?

Then comes an opposing reality as we look more deeply into her story…and into Jacob’s. Maybe nothing is what it seems.

By the end, we are just happy to escape from these disturbing and somewhat unlikeable characters. But the story kept me turning the pages, earning 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SUCH A PERFECT WIFE, BY KATE WHITE

On a sunny morning in late September, Shannon Blaine sets off for a jog along the rural roads near her home in Lake George, New York. It’s her usual a.m. routine, her “me time” after dropping the kids off at school…except on this day she never returns.

Is her husband lying when he says he has no clue where she is? Could Shannon have split on her own, overwhelmed by the pressures of her life? Or is she the victim of a sexual predator who had been prowling the area and snatched her before she knew what was happening.

True crime writer Bailey Weggins, on assignment for the website Crime Beat, heads north from New York City to report on the mysterious disappearance. An anonymous tip soon leads Bailey to a grisly, bone-chilling discovery. Every town has its secrets, Bailey reminds herself, and nothing is ever as perfect as it seems. She keeps digging for answers until—when it’s almost too late—she unearths the terrifying truth.

 

From the first page of Such a Perfect Wife, I was pulled into the story of a missing jogger in the lovely town of Lake George. Having read other books with reporter Bailey Weggins as the main character and first person narrator, I was rapidly turning pages to see what she would discover next. I liked the way her mind worked, and how we learned her processes through her internal monologues and the conversations she had with the missing woman’s family and friends.

Just when we thought there was nothing to connect one suspect to the murder because of a link to other murders, suggesting a serial killer, something unexpected tipped Bailey off…and put her in grave danger. A heart-pounding tale that kept me glued to the pages and earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE LOOK-ALIKE, BY ERICA SPINDLER

Sienna Scott grew up in the dark shadow of her mother’s paranoid delusions. Now, she’s returned home to confront her past and the unsolved murder that altered the course of her life.

In her mother’s shuttered house, an old fear that has haunted Sienna for years rears its ugly head—that it was she who had been the killer’s target that night. And now, with it, a new fear—that the killer not only intended to remedy his past mistake—he’s already begun. But are these fears any different from the ones that torment her mother?

As the walls close in, the line between truth and lie, reality and delusion disintegrate. Has Sienna’s worst nightmare come true? Or will she unmask a killer and finally prove she may be her mother’s look-alike, but she’s not her clone?

A page-turner that kept me in its grip, The Look-Alike reminded me of every favorite thriller of mine. A story with many possible suspects, intense moments that kept me glued to the pages, and characters that felt like real people.

I liked Sienna’s voice and how she stood by her family, even those who were difficult, like her mother, and her brother Brad who seems to have betrayed her.

I had to work through it all for a while, sorting through the clues and setting aside the red herrings, but in the end, the reveal was perfectly orchestrated and allowed for Sienna to put the pieces together. Definitely a five star read.

***My ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: DELUSIONS OF GRANDMA, BY CARRIE FISHER

The actress-author of Postcards from the Edge explores maternity in her latest novel, featuring a very pregnant woman’s lively odyssey to rescue her Alzheimer’s-stricken grandfather from a nursing home.

 
A fictionalized autobiography, Delusions of Grandma, follows the experiences of Cora Sharpe, a Hollywood screenwriter, as she navigates a relationship with Ray, a lawyer.

When she first meets him, she doesn’t trust him because she has a basic dislike of men of his profession. But their conversations hooked her, as she was drawn to banter, and she was soon deeply involved with him.

As she had predicted from the beginning, however, Cora and Ray parted ways…before she discovered that she was pregnant.

Fisher’s trademark wit kept me smiling until the very last page, following along on a delightful journey to save Cora’s grandfather from a nursing home, while carrying on conversations with her unborn child in the form of letters. The word play kept me fascinated as the story unfolded. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: TELL ME EVERYTHING, BY AMY HATVANY

 

A happily married couple. A dance with a stranger at a bar.

One night—one seemingly insignificant choice—can change everything.

Jessica and Jake Snyder love each other, and their life together. Successful in their chosen careers, they reside in the picturesque, though at times stifling, Seattle suburb of Queens Ridge as they parent teenagers Ella and Tucker.

As so often happens in marriage, their romantic life falls casualty to busy schedules and repetitive routine, until one night, a stranger asks Jessica to dance. On a whim, Jake urges her to say yes, saying that he wants to watch this other man touch her, something that surprises Jessica by arousing her like never before. A door opens for them then, into a realm of exploration neither of them knew existed.

They create rules to protect their marriage, and are thrilled when their relationship is strengthened and enriched by deeper levels of communication and trust brought about by this exciting, but taboo behavior. That is, until Jessica keeps a secret from Jake and embarks on a tryst with an intriguing man from her past, who, when she tries to end things between them, decides to seek revenge.

What happens after that will threaten to destroy their world—and them.

Jessica, our first-person narrator in Tell Me Everything, boldly opens her story of sexual experimentation as part of her marriage, giving the reader a somewhat shocking introduction to their reasons for these choices, while keeping us intrigued throughout. As I got to know the characters and their history, all of which led to these outlets for them, I had that niggling sense that nothing would end well for them. Not because of their nontraditional choices, but because the scene was set early on for everything to unravel.

The story did veer off into unexpected places, and the effects on Jessica, Jake, and their family led to a closer scrutiny of their choices. In the end, they had the opportunity to work on their issues.

An interesting look at how social media can exacerbate the challenges in relationships brought another layer to the story. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE POISON GARDEN, BY A.J. BANNER

 

Elise Watters seems to have it all—a blissful marriage, a gorgeous Victorian home surrounded by lush gardens, and a dream job running her late mother’s herbal boutique.

But on the eve of her first wedding anniversary, Elise makes a shocking discovery that turns her life upside down and casts doubt on everything she thought she knew—about her marriage, her friends, and even herself. As she treads into dangerous territory, Elise is forced to wonder: Is her whole future at stake? Or is paranoia getting the best of her?

If she is to believe what she sees, Elise has every reason to fear for her life…

 

Elise’s first person voice carried us along on an intense path, and just when we thought we knew the source of the danger, we would be struck by still another shock.

Even her best friend was suspect.

I do enjoy a book in which I do not know who to trust. By the end of The Poison Garden, however, I wasn’t sure I could even believe what ultimately happened.

I couldn’t put it down, however, which is why I’m awarding 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FAMILY, BY LOUISE JENSEN

 

Laura is devastated when her husband dies, leaving her and their almost grown-up daughter, Tilly, alone. When the insurance company refuses to pay out, Laura is in danger of losing the house and has no choice but to seek help from elsewhere.

Oak Leaf Farm, a community that lives just outside of town, seems to be everything that Laura and Tilly need, so when this self-made family offer Laura the lifeline she’s been looking for she gratefully accepts.

But all is not right on the farm and when both Laura and Tilly are drawn to the community’s handsome and charismatic leader, mother and daughter find themselves on opposite sides of the battle lines…

 

When a ready-made family and community are offered to Laura and Tilly, red flags appeared, reminding me that such an apparent solution could be anything but the answer they need.

Each of the community members offer apparent friendship and help, but it didn’t take long to realize that the fear Laura is beginning to feel is probably warranted.

The Family offered up many plausible twists and turns, so that by the end, I knew that there were so many evil possibilities that I couldn’t stop reading. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: IF YOU ONLY KNEW, BY KRISTAN HIGGINS

 

Letting go of her ex-husband is harder than wedding-dress designer Jenny Tate expected…especially since his new wife wants to be Jenny’s new best friend. Needing closure, Jenny trades the Manhattan skyline for her hometown up the Hudson, where she’ll start her own business and bask in her sister Rachel’s picture-perfect family life…and maybe even find a little romance of her own with Leo, her downstairs neighbor, who’s utterly irresistible and annoyingly distant at the same time.

Rachel’s idyllic marriage, however, is imploding after she discovers what looks like her husband’s infidelity. She always thought she’d walk away in this situation but now she’s wavering, much to Jenny’s surprise. Rachel points to their parents’ perfect marriage as a shining example of patience and forgiveness; but to protect her sister, Jenny may have to tarnish that memory—and their rela-tionship¬—and reveal a family secret she’s been keeping since childhood.

 

If You Only Knew is full of all my favorite ingredients: sisters who are best friends; an idyllic setting near Manhattan; gorgeous wedding dresses created by Jenny, my favorite character; and gorgeous little girls, mothered by Rachel, whose not-so-perfect life is coming unglued.

That last part, of course, is less than wonderful, but I do enjoy reading about characters that are trying to make their lives work out, even as I’m yelling at them to stop putting up with the bad behavior, since they don’t seem to be listening to other characters who know them well.

With the turn of each page, I sank more and more into the world of these characters, hoping that they would find just what they needed, and that they would realize they don’t need perfect, just perfect moments now and then, A delightful book that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL, BY MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

 

A girl is discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Half-starved and filthy, she won’t tell anyone her name, or her age, or where she came from. Maybe she is twelve, maybe fifteen. She doesn’t appear in any missing persons file, and her DNA can’t be matched to an identity. Six years later, still unidentified, she is living in a secure children’s home with a new name, Evie Cormac. When she initiates a court case demanding the right to be released as an adult, forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven must determine if Evie is ready to go free. But she is unlike anyone he’s ever met—fascinating and dangerous in equal measure. Evie knows when someone is lying, and no one around her is telling the truth.

Meanwhile, Cyrus is called in to investigate the shocking murder of a high school figure-skating champion, Jodie Sheehan, who dies on a lonely footpath close to her home. Pretty and popular, Jodie is portrayed by everyone as the ultimate girl-next-door, but as Cyrus peels back the layers, a secret life emerges—one that Evie Cormac, the girl with no past, knows something about.. A man haunted by his own tragic history, Cyrus is caught between the two cases—one girl who needs saving and another who needs justice. What price will he pay for the truth?

 

In Good Girl, Bad Girl, we are pulled into a dual story line immediately. A young girl has been murdered, and Cyrus Haven is tasked with helping the police solve the case. Meanwhile, in a high-security children’s home in Nottingham, a resident social worker requests Cyrus’s help in working with a young girl dubbed Evie Cormac, whose identity has never been uncovered. She was found under mysterious circumstances. Was she held captive, or was there more going on with the man assumed to be her captor?

Alternating narrators tell the tale, and as more details emerge, we try to solve the mystery of who murdered the figure skater named Jodie Sheehan. The most obvious perpetrator begins to seem less likely as more secrets and lies soon add to the growing list of questions about who did what to whom.

Evie’s connection to Cyrus leads to a bond that will keep us intrigued throughout. I kept rapidly turning pages until the final revelations, while rooting for both Cyrus and Evie. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE LYING ROOM, BY NICCI FRENCH

 

It should have been just a mid-life fling. A guilty indiscretion that Neve Connolly could have weathered. An escape from twenty years of routine marriage to her overworked husband, and from her increasingly distant children. But when Neve pays a morning-after visit to her lover, Saul, and finds him brutally murdered, their pied-à-terre still heady with her perfume, all the lies she has so painstakingly stitched together threaten to unravel.

After scrubbing clean every trace of her existence from Saul’s life—and death—Neve believes she can return to normal, shaken but intact. But she can’t get out of her head the one tormenting question: what was she forgetting?

An investigation into the slaying could provide the answer. It’s brought Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching, and Neve’s worst fears, to her door. But with every new lie, every new misdirection to save herself, Neve descends further into the darkness of her betrayal—and into more danger than she ever imagined. Because Hitching isn’t the only one watching Neve. So is a determined killer who’s about to make the next terrifying move in a deadly affair….

 

From the very first page of The Lying Room, we watch every move Neve Connolly makes, keeping track of her actions, her lies, and what she must do to make sense of a murder…and to figure out who is responsible.

With the police on her heels at every turn and with a growing list of friends and acquaintances that she must not trust, Neve and her troubled daughter Mabel play against time, juggling events and hoping to save themselves.

All along, we also follow Neve’s efforts to get through the routines of home, work, and caring for her children, staying clear of anything that will bring the police to her door. It was hard to figure out who might be setting up Neve, and I had plenty of people to mistrust along the way. Red herrings, misdirection, and troublesome moments from the past kept me on guard as I tried to sort it all out. A riveting tale that kept me fully engaged…and then suddenly, it all made sense. 5 stars.

***