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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REVIEW: THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, BY SALLY HEPWORTH

 

All their lives, Alice Stanhope and her daughter, Zoe, have been a family of two, living quietly in Northern California. Zoe has always struggled with crippling social anxiety and her mother has been her constant and fierce protector. With no family to speak of, and the identity of Zoe’s father shrouded in mystery, their team of two works—until it doesn’t. Until Alice gets sick and needs to fight for her life.

Desperate to find stability for Zoe, Alice reaches out to two women who are practically strangers but who are her only hope: Kate, a nurse, and Sonja, a social worker. As the four of them come together, a chain of events is set into motion and all four of them must confront their sharpest fears and secrets—secrets about abandonment, abuse, estrangement, and the deepest longing for family. Imbued with heart and humor in even the most dismal moments, The Mother’s Promise is an unforgettable novel about the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters and the new ways in which families are forged.

My Thoughts: From the very beginning pages of The Mother’s Promise, I was captivated by the challenges faced by each of the characters.

First there was Alice, a single mother diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease, confronted with the realization that she will be unavailable to her needy daughter while she fights her illness. Then there is Zoe, the fifteen-year-old daughter who suffers from social anxiety so crippling that speaking, eating in front of others, or forming any kind of normal connections becomes a daily struggle. Being at home with her mother is her only comfort zone.

As Alice begins to deal with her illness, she meets Kate, a nurturing nurse who goes above and beyond to assist, even taking Zoe into her home to avoid foster care placement during her mother’s hospitalization. Kate’s seemingly perfect life is full of personal heartbreak, but I liked seeing how she reached out to Alice and Zoe. The bond developing between Kate and Zoe was a blessing for them both.

Sonya, the hospital social worker, who seems closed-off and occasionally distant…has her own secret battles. Her marriage to George is not what it seems.

The circumstances of Zoe’s conception, and the identity of her father are woven into the story in unexpected ways.

I liked watching Zoe slowly learn to deal with her issues, while her mother began to lean on others. An emotional read that kept me engaged until the very end, this book earned 5 stars.

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