REVIEW: THE HOUSE GUEST, BY MARK EDWARDS

 

When British twenty-somethings Ruth and Adam are offered the chance to spend the summer housesitting in New York, they can’t say no. Young, in love and on the cusp of professional success, they feel as if luck is finally on their side.

So the moment that Eden turns up on the doorstep, drenched from a summer storm, it seems only right to share a bit of that good fortune. Beautiful and charismatic, Eden claims to be a friend of the homeowners, who told her she could stay whenever she was in New York.

They know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers—let alone invite her.

As suspicions creep in that Eden may not be who she claims to be, they begin to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake…

As I was drawn into the story of The House Guest, I was leery of almost every character that appeared. Especially Eden. Who could possibly trust anything she said or did?

But as the story leads us along, and as we meet other characters, all of whom seem suspicious and/or nefarious, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

What would happen to Ruth when she mysteriously disappeared? Who was behind it, and would Adam figure it out, with the help of a mysterious stranger who seemed to be stalking him?

What did the homeowners, Mona and Jack, have to do with what was happening? Was Eden an old friend, or were they, too, involved in the cult-like events that surrounded them all?

I liked trailing along after the characters and the story, trying to decide who was evil and who was good. In the end, we are quickly swept away to a beautiful beach setting…and we think it is all over. But is it? 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HAVE YOU SEEN ME?, BY KATE WHITE

The key to her missing memories could bring relief—or unlock her worst nightmares.

On a cold, rainy morning, finance journalist Ally Linden arrives soaked to the bone at her Manhattan office, only to find that she’s forgotten her keycard. When her boss shows, he’s shocked to see her—because, he explains, she hasn’t worked there in five years.

Ally knows her name, but is having trouble coming up with much beyond that, though after a trip to the psychiatric ER, she begins to piece together important facts: she lives on the Upper West Side; she’s now a freelance journalist; she’s married to a terrific man named Hugh. More memories materialize and yet she still can’t recall anything about the previous two days. Diagnosed as having experienced a dissociative state, she starts to wonder if it may have been triggered by something she saw. Could she have witnessed an accident—or worse—had something happened to her?

Desperate for answers, Ally tries to track where she spent the missing days, but every detail she unearths points to an explanation that’s increasingly ominous, and it’s clear someone wants to prevent her from learning where those forty-eight hours went. In order to uncover the truth, Ally must dig deep into the secrets of her past—and outsmart the person who seems determined to silence her.

 

Ally’s nightmare trauma has turned into her new reality, as she tries to sort through her actions in the days that went missing. Clues she gathered from the depths of her mind and her memories only led to partial answers until a private detective begins helping her figure out her actions during the missing hours.

Another clue comes in the form of a past traumatic event that might have triggered her break from reality.

But before she finally reaches a resolution, she finds herself in more danger than she could have imagined, and from a totally unexpected source. Along the way, she realizes there are few people she can even trust.

Have You Seen Me? is a captivating book that kept me turning pages until suddenly the pieces fell into place. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: YOU ARE NOT ALONE, BY G. HENDRICKS/S. PEKKANEN

Shay Miller wants to find love, but it eludes her. She wants to be fulfilled, but her job is a dead end. She wants to belong, but her life is increasingly lonely.

Until Shay meets the Moore sisters. Cassandra and Jane live a life of glamorous perfection, and always get what they desire. When they invite Shay into their circle, everything seems to get better.

Shay would die for them to like her.
She may have to.

Shay Miller is lonely, sharing an apartment with a man she secretly loves…and his girlfriend. When she witnesses a tragic event on the subway, she is caught up in the victim’s life and swept away by the attractive friends.

But suddenly, just when the new friends have seemingly brought her into the fold, everything changes. How did Shay become another victim? Were her questions about the victim Amanda suddenly putting a target on her back? Who could be turning her life upside down, and why?

Trying to find the links and connections brought her closer to the answers.

I loved how Shay took notes in her “data book,” and the more she writes down the closer she comes to discovering the truth. An intense story, You Are Not Alone kept me rapidly turning pages to the conclusion of this 5 star read.

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

REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, BY A. J. FINN

 

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

My Thoughts: In the beginning of The Woman in the Window, we see only a glimpse of Anna’s life. We learn that she hasn’t left her house in ten months; that she takes a lot of medication and drinks too much; that she watches a lot of black and white movies like Vertigo and Rear Window; and that she meets other agoraphobic people in forums online. Plus, Anna watches the neighbors through her windows.

As we walk through the rooms of Anna’s house along with her, she narrates her passage for us; we can visualize the beauty of it all, with lots of space and lovely rooms. But it is also a very lonely place for someone who is virtually locked within those walls. Mostly what we notice about her home is the absence of the people she loves…and no explanation for their absence.

Slowly her story unfolds, and it will be a long while before we start to learn what happened to her. Flashbacks reveal bits and pieces as we rapidly turn the pages.

Then, as the story continues, we watch through her window with her, and what she sees will change everything for her. Now many people are harassing her; the cops do not believe her; and she is losing her grip more and more.

Even as I knew that she could be every bit as delusional as everyone thinks, another part of me did not really believe that. There were numerous creepy and suspicious characters, and since nothing is quite as it seems, anything is possible. It will be a long while before Anna puts the pieces together. How will she finally discover the truth? What will happen to her in the end? I felt breathless and thoroughly engaged as the intense moments near the end brought the story to a riveting and unexpected conclusion. 5 stars.***

REVIEW: A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, BY SHARI LAPENA

Karen and Tom Krupp are happy—they’ve got a lovely home in upstate New York, they’re practically newlyweds, and they have no kids to interrupt their comfortable life together. But one day, Tom returns home to find Karen has vanished—her car’s gone and it seems she left in a rush. She even left her purse—complete with phone and ID—behind.

There’s a knock on the door—the police are there to take Tom to the hospital where his wife has been admitted. She had a car accident, and lost control as she sped through the worst part of town.

The accident has left Karen with a concussion and a few scrapes.  Still, she’s mostly okay—except that she can’t remember what she was doing or where she was when she crashed. The cops think her memory loss is highly convenient, and they suspect she was up to no good. 

Karen returns home with Tom, determined to heal and move on with her life. Then she realizes something’s been moved. Something’s not quite right. Someone’s been in her house. And the police won’t stop asking questions.

Because in this house, everyone’s a stranger. Everyone has something they’d rather keep hidden. Something they might even kill to keep quiet.

My Thoughts: A story that wrapped itself around me from the first page, A Stranger in the House takes us into the world of Karen and Tom, living in upstate New York in a lovely neighborhood. But then, one night, everything changed.

Karen’s accident in a sketchy neighborhood left her with amnesia, but also with detectives appearing on her doorstep regularly, asking questions, looking at her as if they don’t believe her. They even turn their skepticism on Tom. Because now it is not just an investigation into an accident, but something more happened that night, and Karen and Tom are both looking like suspects.

Across the street, Brigid is watching, too. Supposedly Karen’s best friend, she has secrets…and reasons to keep them. Why is she obsessed with Tom and Karen?

Besides the cops and the investigation, there is more. Who is skulking around in Karen’s house, moving things, messing things up just enough that she will know it?

I am one of those people who always knows when someone has moved my things, just a bit. It drives me mad! Karen cleverly has started taking photos before she leaves the house. What will she discover?

A captivating story that held me in its grip until the very end, not knowing who to trust and who might be the stranger in the house. Then came a stunning twist I did not expect. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE CUTAWAY, BY CHRISTINA KOVAC

 

The Cutaway draws you into the tangled world of corruption and cover-up as a young television producer investigates the disappearance of a beautiful Georgetown lawyer in this stunning psychological thriller, perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn.

When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.

Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.

My Thoughts: The Cutaway was a gripping story that kept me fascinated throughout, beginning with the up close and personal look at how television news stories are developed, including the live shots and the video clips that bring a finished product to the viewers. The danger, the intensity, and the insider politics make the story even more compelling. Set in Washington, D.C., we also get an insider view of how corruption breeds within a system, including how funding PACs can be made up of “dark” money.

The characters were especially captivating, beginning with Virginia, whose skill kept me going. I also enjoyed her close familial-like ties with her staff, like Ben, the evening news anchor, who might have turned into a romantic connection. Then there were those like Isaiah, who had been around a long time, and who were loyal…but who could also be tempted to stray when their own careers seemed to be threatened.

Nick Mellay, the news director, was a weasel, IMO. Quick to think of his own needs above others, he turned Virginia’s job upside down, demoting her for his own reasons…carrying out his own selfish plan. Seeing him get a comeuppance was worth the read.

How will Virginia connect the dots when some of her sources have their own dark agendas? What will happen when she comes face-to-face with the killer? Will the story be worth all the drama? Many odd twists and turns finally bring a solution, but I didn’t guess the identity of the killer until she was right in front of me.

Definitely a 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: THE VANISHING YEAR, BY KATE MORETTI

 

 

Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

 

My Thoughts: From the first pages of The Vanishing Year, I was caught up in Zoe’s world, both the current charmed life and the one she escaped. I could visualize the criminals who might be pursuing her, even now.

As Zoe begins to experience moments in her present life that collide with the past, we learn more about who she really was…back then. About her adoption by Evelyn, about her birth mother, and the most shocking secret of all that comes when she meets her birth mother.

In her present life, there is her friend Lydia, with whom she worked in a small flower shop…before Henry.

Then there is Cash, a journalist who wrote an article about an event she produced…and who has turned into someone she trusts. Someone who is helping her. But he is someone Henry hates.

How do the strange and frightening events happening in her new life connect with the old one? Who has decided to target her and terrify her all over again? Why does Henry seem to monitor her every activity, and why is he enraged when she questions him?

I had my own ideas about who was behind a lot of what was happening to Zoe…and when the truth started to unfold, I realized that it was all a lot more convoluted than I had imagined. A book I could not put down, I give this one a resounding 5 stars.

cropped-again-5***

REVIEW: NEVER ALONE, BY ELIZABETH HAYNES

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Sarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie.

When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah’s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It’s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son’s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant.

My Thoughts: The beginning pages of Never Alone felt almost cozy and comfy, with Sarah settling into her routines and enjoying the exploration of her old friendship with Aiden. Back in the day, she, Aiden, and Jim, whom she would eventually marry, were pals. There was a competitive edge to the friendship between Jim and Aiden, yet when Sarah chose Jim, Aiden left…and she hadn’t heard from him in years.

Sophie was an interesting character. Charming, warm, and a bit vivacious, yet, for a friend, she seemed to keep a lot of secrets. I was a little wary of her, especially when she started sleeping with Will, a much younger man, despite her very married state.

Aiden and Sophie seemed to have little private chats, too, so what could they be hiding? What does Sarah sense about them? And where does Aiden go all the time, since he has never once told her what he does for a living? How does Sarah react when she makes a discovery about a financial arrangement between Jim and Aiden, and fairly recently? Finally, why does Will keep popping up at Sarah’s farm, blithely walking into the house without knocking?

Alternating narrators take us through the story: Sarah, Aiden, and a third unknown narrator who appears to be watching them all. Suddenly, almost as if the earth has shifted, the intensity heightens and the pace moves rapidly toward a dangerously chilling climax. I figured out who that third narrator was, after being suspicious for a while…and then I held my breath while events came crashing around them all. The stunning finale and the aftermath allowed me to finally breathe again. 5 stars.

cropped-again-5***

REVIEW: IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, BY RUTH WARE

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Leonora (Nora/Lee) Shaw writes crime thrillers, and she loves the reclusive world she has created in her tiny flat in Hackney. But there are reasons for her isolation. Ten years before, she and her lover James Cooper broke up after something between them became too much to handle…and his mysterious text, totally unexpected, made the hurt impossible to overcome.

Now Nora is struggling with another e-mail, from a woman named Flo, inviting her to a “hen-do” for Clare Cavendish, another friend whom she hasn’t seen for ten years. Clare is getting married, and Nora is surprised at the invitation, but when her closest friend Nina agrees to come along, Nora accepts.

Here’s where In a Dark, Dark Wood becomes even more dark and sinister. Flo’s aunt’s cabin, The Glass House, is on the edge of a dark wood, and all the glass facing those woods creates a truly frightening ambience. What makes the weekend even more sinister is the sense that both Flo and Clare are playing some weird games…some of which are very painful for Nora. When she finds out who Clare is marrying, she wants to leave immediately. But events unfold in a tragic way, making that impossible.

What were Flo and Clare up to? Were they as innocent as they pretend to be? What horrendous event will turn the creepy weekend into tragedy, and how will Nora find the answers that seem to elude her? How do mysterious text messages lend another layer of mystery to the tale? What was the secret between James and Nora that started the events in the present?

My pages flew by, as I tried to figure out what was happening. I accurately guessed who had engineered the sinister and tragic events, but I liked watching Nora try to figure it all out. I also loved the descriptions in the beginning and at the end which show how much “home” means to Nora…and how she will fight to get back to that wonderful feeling. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “IN A DARK, DARK WOOD”

Married to Books-BOOKISH LOGO

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

My feature today is In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware, a suspenseful, compulsive, and darkly twisted psychological thriller.

 

 

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Beginning:  I am running.

I am running through moonlit woods, with branches ripping at my clothes and my feet catching in the snow-bowed bracken.

Brambles slash at my hands.  My breath tears in my throat.  It hurts.  Everything hurts.

***

56:  At last I could see the road, a pale gray snake in the deepening shadows.  As I broke out from the woods I heard the soft hoot of an owl, and I obeyed Flo’s instructions, turning right along the tarmac.

***

Synopsis: Leonora, known to some as Lee and others as Nora, is a reclusive crime writer, unwilling to leave her “nest” of an apartment unless it is absolutely necessary. When a friend she hasn’t seen or spoken to in years unexpectedly invites Nora (Lee?) to a weekend away in an eerie glass house deep in the English countryside, she reluctantly agrees to make the trip. Forty-eight hours later, she wakes up in a hospital bed injured but alive, with the knowledge that someone is dead. Wondering not “what happened?” but “what have I done?”, Nora (Lee?) tries to piece together the events of the past weekend. Working to uncover secrets, reveal motives, and find answers, Nora (Lee?) must revisit parts of herself that she would much rather leave buried where they belong: in the past.

In the tradition of Paula Hawkins’s instant New York Times bestseller The Girl On the Train and S. J. Watson’s riveting national sensation Before I Go To Sleep, this gripping literary debut from UK novelist Ruth Ware will leave you on the edge of your seat through the very last page.

***

What do you think?  Want to keep reading?

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