REVIEW: AN UNWANTED GUEST, BY SHARI LAPENA

 

It’s winter in the Catskills and Mitchell’s Inn, nestled deep in the woods, is the perfect setting for a relaxing–maybe even romantic–weekend away. It boasts spacious old rooms with huge woodburning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar, and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or just curling up with a good murder mystery.

So when the weather takes a turn for the worse, and a blizzard cuts off the electricity–and all contact with the outside world–the guests settle in for the long haul.

Soon, though, one of the guests turns up dead–it looks like an accident. But when a second guest dies, they start to panic.

Within the snowed-in paradise, something–or someone–is picking off the guests one by one. And there’s nothing they can do but hunker down and hope they can survive the storm.

My Thoughts: A beautiful weekend retreat sounds perfect to those in An Unwanted Guest. But no wi-fi or cell phone reception does put a bit of a damper on things for them all.

Then a storm comes and the power goes out. While the owner and his son do everything to make them all as comfortable as possible, they do feel a bit annoyed. So when the first guest turns up dead at the bottom of the stairs, anxiety descends. Shortly afterwards, a second guest is strangled in her room.

As they all search to see if anyone outside has come in without their knowledge, we sense the heightened fear as they find nothing. Then they all look around at one another, with the horrifying thought: it is one of them. Paranoia abounds as the hours pass by, with no way to call the police.

I loved the guessing game of “who among us is the killer?” Since they were all relative strangers before the weekend, they are at a loss about their companions. Even those who were part of a couple are starting to question if they really know that person. Without wi-fi they can’t even Google anyone.

Before the weekend ends, three more will be dead, and the police, finally on the scene, narrow down the search…and arrest one of them. I liked the part where the killer filled us in through an internal monologue after the arrest. We learn the motive and the how of it. One more “killer” shares thoughts at the end. Another piece that might later be solved. 4.5.

***
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RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “THEY ALL FALL DOWN”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a recent download:  They All Fall Down, by Tammy Cohen. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Orange is the New Black in this new psychological thriller, where a new patient suspects that women at her high-risk psychiatric clinic are being stalked by a serial killer . . .

 

 

 

Intro:  (Hannah)

Charlie cut her wrists last week with a shard of caramelized sugar.

We’d made the sugar sheets together in the clinic’s kitchen earlier in the day, under Joni’s beady-eyed supervision.

‘Yours are thick enough to do yourself an injury,’ I’d said to Charlie, as a joke.

***

Teaser Tuesday:  It had been such a relief when Hannah announced they were giving up on the whole idea.  And then she’d got pregnant naturally.  It had seemed like a miracle. (p. 60).

***

Synopsis:  Hannah had a perfect life in London—a loving husband, a great job—until she did something shocking. Something that she doesn’t quite understand herself; and now she has landed herself in a high-risk psychiatric unit.

Since Hannah has been admitted, two women have died, including Charlie, one of her closest friends in the institution. It’s a high-risk unit, the authorities say. Deaths happen. But Hannah knows Charlie wouldn’t have killed herself. She is convinced there’s a serial killer picking off the patients one by one, passing their deaths off as suicides. But why? And who will believe her?

Corinne, Hannah’s mother, is worried sick about her eldest daughter. She hates that she’s ended up in the unit, though she knows it’s the best place for her to get the treatment she needs. At first, Corinne assumes Hannah’s outlandish claims about a killer in the unit are just another manifestation of her psychological condition, but as she starts to uncover strange inconsistencies surrounding the unit’s charismatic director, Dr. Roberts, she begins to wonder if her daughter might have stumbled upon the truth.

But who can Corinne trust, when she doesn’t even trust her own daughter?

***

Do the snippets grab you?  Would you keep reading?

***

REVIEW: A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS, BY LINWOOD BARCLAY

 

College professor Paul Davis is a normal guy with a normal life. Until, driving along a deserted road late one night, he surprises a murderer disposing of a couple of bodies. That’s when Paul’s “normal” existence is turned upside down. After nearly losing his own life in that encounter, he finds himself battling PTSD, depression, and severe problems at work. His wife, Charlotte, desperate to cheer him up, brings home a vintage typewriter—complete with ink ribbons and heavy round keys—to encourage him to get started on that novel he’s always intended to write.

However, the typewriter itself is a problem. Paul swears it’s possessed and types by itself at night. But only Paul can hear the noise coming from downstairs; Charlotte doesn’t hear a thing. And she worries he’s going off the rails.

Paul believes the typewriter is somehow connected to the murderer he discovered nearly a year ago. The killer had made his victims type apologies to him before ending their lives. Has another sick twist of fate entwined his life with the killer—could this be the same machine? Increasingly tormented but determined to discover the truth and confront his nightmare, Paul begins investigating the deaths himself.

But that may not be the best thing to do. Maybe Paul should just take the typewriter back to where his wife found it. Maybe he should stop asking questions and simply walk away while he can. . . .

 

My Thoughts: Every page of A Noise Downstairs grabbed me, as it recounted mysterious events that could all be in Paul’s mind…or from the supernatural. Or Paul himself could be sleepwalking, doing the things himself. The click-clicking of a vintage typewriter cast an eerie aura upon the events, adding just the right amount of creepiness to the tale.

Every event kept me guessing and wondering, even suspecting the numerous people in Paul’s life. I suspected his wife; I suspected his ex-wife; and even his therapist, at one point. Then there was an odd patient that had done similar things to other people. Could he somehow be sneaking into Paul’s home and doing these things?

Who could Paul trust? Who would have the most to gain by gaslighting Paul? Or was Paul so far off the rails that he needed to be locked up? Just when I thought I had it all figured out, every twist and turn afterwards stunned me, as the pieces finally came together rapidly, leaving me shaking my head. It turned out that nothing was as it seemed, and there were so many unexpected curve balls that I was breathless by the end. A brilliant 5 star read.

***

RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “THREE DAYS MISSING”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a recent download.  Three Days Missing, by Kimberly Belle:  When a child goes missing, two mothers’ lives collide in a shocking way in this suspenseful novel from the bestselling author of The Marriage Lie.

 

 

Intro:  KAT

My phone is already buzzing with work email as I rush Ethan through his morning routine.  Get up.  Get dressed.  For the love of God, brush your teeth and hair.  In none of his eight short years has my son ever been a morning person, and I’ve never been the most patient of mothers, not even when I didn’t have a boss clocking the second I step off the elevator.

***

Teaser:  My blood tingles with equal parts anger and disappointment.  What kind of rinky-dink journalist is this guy? (68%).

***

Synopsis:  It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: the call that comes in the middle of the night. When Kat Jenkins awakens to the police on her doorstep, her greatest fear is realized. Her nine-year-old son, Ethan, is missing–vanished from the cabin where he’d been on an overnight class trip. Shocked and distraught, Kat rushes to the campground, but she’s too late; the authorities have returned from their search empty-handed after losing Ethan’s trail in the mountain forest.

Another mother from the school, Stef Huntington, seems like she has it all: money, prominence in the community, a popular son and a loving husband. She hardly knows Kat, except for the vicious gossip that swirls around Kat’s traumatic past. But as the police investigation unfolds, Ethan’s disappearance has earth-shattering consequences for Stef, as her path crosses with Kat. As the two mothers race against the clock, their desperate search for answers reveals how the greatest dangers lie behind the everyday smiles of those they trust the most.

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

***

REVIEW: THE PERFECT COUPLE, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

 

It’s Nantucket wedding season, also known as summer-the sight of a bride racing down Main Street is as common as the sun setting at Madaket Beach. The Otis-Winbury wedding promises to be an event to remember: the groom’s wealthy parents have spared no expense to host a lavish ceremony at their oceanfront estate.

But it’s going to be memorable for all the wrong reasons after tragedy strikes: a body is discovered in Nantucket Harbor just hours before the ceremony-and everyone in the wedding party is suddenly a suspect. As Chief of Police Ed Kapenash interviews the bride, the groom, the groom’s famous mystery-novelist mother, and even a member of his own family, he discovers that every wedding is a minefield-and no couple is perfect.

 

My Thoughts: Against the backdrop of the gorgeous fairytale setting of Nantucket, The Perfect Couple offers romantic moments and promises of happily-ever-after.

But for the wedding couple, the promises do not come off as planned. Slipping back and forth in time, we learn the secrets behind the facades of the wealthy Winbury family, and we only begin to see what Celeste Otis wants and needs as the wedding date approaches. Her true heart will be revealed as the clock ticks toward the exchange of vows. A tragedy then takes everyone off course, and in the midst of chaos, self-examination must take place.

What makes a happily-ever-after couple? Will Celeste’s dreams of perfection, based on what she sees between her parents, the original “perfect couple,” guide her toward her own true love? Or will the trappings of wealth and privilege owned by the Winbury family misdirect her, forcing a focus on security and comfort? How does a last-minute attraction push her off course? Will she acknowledge her true feelings before it is too late?

Solving the mystery of the body in the harbor keeps everyone a bit off balance for the duration. Meanwhile, the vision of a perfect couple, and what that looks like, haunts each of the characters. Taunting them, reminding them of what others have, and what somehow eludes them. In the end, answers come, but they seem sad and anticlimactic. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: CLOCK DANCE, BY ANNE TYLER

 

Willa Drake can count on one hand the defining moments of her life. In 1967, she is a schoolgirl coping with her mother’s sudden disappearance. In 1977, she is a college coed considering a marriage proposal. In 1997, she is a young widow trying to piece her life back together. And in 2017, she yearns to be a grandmother but isn’t sure she ever will be. Then, one day, Willa receives a startling phone call from a stranger. Without fully understanding why, she flies across the country to Baltimore to look after a young woman she’s never met, her nine-year-old daughter, and their dog, Airplane. This impulsive decision will lead Willa into uncharted territory–surrounded by eccentric neighbors who treat each other like family, she finds solace and fulfillment in unexpected places. A bewitching novel of hope and transformation, Clock Dance gives us Anne Tyler at the height of her powers.

 

My Thoughts: In our journey through Clock Dance, we leap ahead to those defining moments in Willa’s life, from preteen years to the current time. What we learn about Willa and what she needed is how hopeful she always felt, while being basically unsatisfied. Her first husband, Derek, seemingly hijacked her life and her decisions, and even in his death, he was thinking only of himself as he made some fatal choices.

Motherhood was also a time of meeting the needs of others, while ignoring her own. The realization of what she had given up for family and for husbands would later come to awaken her to those unmet needs and how very important they suddenly were to her. Her second husband could have been someone to fill in those blanks in her life, but again, he was someone who met his own needs first.

I liked how Willa finally started making choices based on what she wanted and needed. Would she finally start to feel that fulfillment? Would an unexpected trip to Baltimore to help out her son’s ex-girlfriend offer the opportunity to surround herself with a collection of people who would begin to feel like an extended family? Could she learn that just when she thought she had to pick up her same old life, she could visualize a very different kind of life? One with room for the people and activities she longed to enjoy. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE DATE, BY LOUISE JENSEN

 

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future. By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognizable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognize the face staring back at her…

My Thoughts: I was immediately drawn in by The Date, from Ali’s Sunday morning that began with no memory of the night before, and moved on to her inability to recognize herself in the mirror, her body covered by bruises, and the blood showing up on assorted items. At the hospital, her diagnosis of facial blindness would add another layer of stress to what has already turned into a horrifying series of events. It isn’t long before Ali begins receiving threatening and taunting notes, with strange items, all suggesting that she has done something terrible. Her rock throughout is her younger brother Ben, as the two of them had survived a childhood trauma together.

I couldn’t imagine how it could get even worse, but as the story sweeps between the past and the present, we slowly come to realize that current events are just the tip of the iceberg. Ali’s childhood trauma and what led to her changing her name hint at why someone is able to terrorize her with threats that she has done something horrible.

Paranoia and guilt follow her everywhere, which accompany her sense of vulnerability about not recognizing faces. Imagine being terrified that someone is following you, reminding you of the past, but when you can’t identify the enemy, everyone becomes untrustworthy. Even your roommate, who is now missing. A video that shows you pushing the roommate might mean you did something to her. Ali’s fears ratchet up with each new strange set of circumstances.

At first, I thought the date with the online person named “Ewan” was behind everything, but eventually more possibilities surface. Red herrings kept me rapidly turning pages, trying to figure out who is behind everything that is happening to Ali, and what, if anything, she has done that will lead to an arrest…or worse. I was stunned by the final reveal, as just when I thought I had it all figured out, I was blindsided. 5 stars.

***

RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “THE DATE”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a recent download:  The Date, by Louise Jensen, a gripping page-turner that will keep you awake until the early hours. Perfect for fans of The Girl on the Train and Before I Go To Sleep.

 

Intro:  Something isn’t right.

I know that as soon as I wake from a thick, muddy sleep.  I know that even before I am aware of the throbbing at my temples.  It’s not the stab of disappointment I get every morning when I realize I’m not in bed with Matt, that I’m no longer living, or welcome, in my own home.  It’s something else.  My head is pounding, thoughts cloudy, and the whole room feels as thought it’s spinning.

Something is wrong.

***

Teaser:  Ben rings me from his car on the way to Edinburgh, the crackle and hiss from his hands-free system making him hard to understand.  I reassure him I am fine, although we both know I’m not, and I promise to call him if I need him (p. 60).

***

Synopsis:  One night can change everything.

‘I know it as soon as I wake up and open my eyes… Something is wrong.’

Her Saturday night started normally. Recently separated from her husband, Ali has been persuaded by her friends to go on a date with a new man. She is ready, she is nervous, she is excited. She is about to take a step into her new future. By Sunday morning, Ali’s life is unrecognisable. She wakes, and she knows that something is wrong. She is home, she is alone, she is hurt and she has no memory of what happened to her.

Worse still, when she looks in the mirror, Ali doesn’t recognise the face staring back at her…

***

I’ve been eager to read this book for a while.  What do you think?  Do you want to know more?

***

REVIEW: LEFT: A LOVE STORY, BY MARY HOGAN

 

It started as a dream vacation in Spain, with Fay and Paul Agarra enjoying all the delights of a European holiday. A respected New York City judge, Paul has always been the man Fay can rely on, no matter what. When he inexplicably disappears from a Barcelona street corner, Fay knows something is terribly wrong. Once reunited, Paul shrugs off the episode as a simple misunderstanding—but Fay suspects her almost perfect life has taken a dark and sudden turn.

Soon there are more signs that Paul is beginning to change. Bouts of forgetfulness lead to mistakes in the courtroom. Simple tasks cause unexplainable outbursts of anger. Fay’s worst suspicions are realized when she learns her husband—her rock, her love, her everything—is succumbing to the ravages of dementia.

As her husband transforms before her very eyes, Fay copes with her fears by retreating into a fantasy life filled with promise instead of pain. In Fay’s invented world, she imagines herself living a glamorous life free from heartache, with a handsome neighbor she barely knows rescuing her from a future she can’t accept.

My Thoughts: From the beginning of Left: A Love Story, we alternate between fantasy and reality. Fay’s comfortable and predictable life is changing, and she takes flights of fancy, mostly involving a beautiful apartment building nearby, where she goes to watch and imagine a perfect life within its gorgeous walls.

The experiences on their trip to Spain were terrifying to Fay, especially since the husband she had always counted on suddenly turned different. Seemingly uncaring. Afterwards, she realizes that nothing would ever be the same again.

However, she has trouble getting Paul’s doctor, his son, or even his legal assistant to listen when she expresses her concerns. Feeling dismissed and isolated, her daily walks take her more often to the “fantasy building.”

How did a traumatic event change everything forever? Why did others finally acknowledge her concerns, but act as if she were derelict in her duty not to have noticed sooner? I really disliked Paul’s primary physician and his son. But soon, they all went on with their lives…and Fay is left to deal with her new reality. A sad and poignant story, this one earned 4.5 stars.

***

RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “OUR HOUSE”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a NetGalley review book to be released on 8/7:  Our House, by Louise Candlish, a disturbing and addictive novel of domestic suspense where secrets kept hidden from spouses cause shocking surprises that hit home…

 

 

 

Intro:  Friday, January 13, 2017

London, 12:30 p.m.

She must be mistaken, but it looks exactly as if someone is moving into her house.

The van is parked halfway down Trinity Avenue, its square mouth agape, a large piece of furniture sliding down the ribbed metal tongue.  Fi watches, squinting into the buttery sunlight—rare for the time of year, a gift—as the object is borne shoulder high by two men through the gate and down the path.

My gate.  My path.

***

Teaser Tuesday:  “That’s why we called you,” Merle tells the officers.  “This house fraud and Bram’s disappearance are clearly linked.  We’re worried he might be the victim of professional criminals.”

***

Synopsis:  When Fiona Lawson comes home to find strangers moving into her house, she’s sure there’s been a mistake. She and her estranged husband, Bram, have a modern co-parenting arrangement: bird’s nest custody, where each parent spends a few nights a week with their two sons at the prized family home to maintain stability for their children. But the system built to protect their family ends up putting them in terrible jeopardy. In a domino effect of crimes and misdemeanors, the nest comes tumbling down.

Now Bram has disappeared and so have Fiona’s children. As events spiral well beyond her control, Fiona will discover just how many lies her husband was weaving and how little they truly knew each other. But Bram’s not the only one with things to hide, and some secrets are best kept to oneself, safe as houses.

***

What do you think?  Do the snippets intrigue you?  Do you want to keep reading?

***