Book Reviews by Mae Clair: Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney #domensticthriller

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This book was on my NetGalley radar, but despite submitting a request, I wasn’t approved for an ARC. The blurb sucked me in the first time I read it, so it was a no brainer to purchase the book when I didn’t get approved for an ARC. Hey, it happens. Rejection aside, I’m thoroughly jazzed I followed through on this one. Below is my five-star review.

BOOK BLURB:

Things have been wrong with Mr and Mrs Wright for a long time. When Adam and Amelia win a weekend away to Scotland, it might be just what their marriage needs. Self-confessed workaholic and screenwriter Adam Wright has lived with face blindness his whole life. He can’t recognize friends or family, or even his own wife.  

Every anniversary the couple exchange traditional gifts–paper, cotton, pottery, tin–and each year Adam’s wife writes him a letter that she never lets him read. Until now. They both know this weekend will make or break their marriage, but they didn’t randomly win this trip. One of them is lying, and someone doesn’t want them to live happily ever after.

Ten years of marriage. Ten years of secrets. And an anniversary they will never forget.

Rock Paper Scissors is the latest exciting domestic thriller from the queen of the killer twist, New York Times bestselling author Alice Feeney.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

What a twisty, atmospheric, and haunting read! Amelia and Adam are a married couple who take a trip to a converted old chapel in a remote area of Scotland. Right from the start, the reader knows their marriage is in trouble, hanging by a thread. Adam is a workaholic screenwriter who suffers from facial blindness—he can’t see or remember people’s faces, including that of his wife. I won’t reiterate the rest of the blurb but will say this book twists and turns in ways I never saw coming. The chapel is wonderfully eerie with an old supernatural history, locked doors, a creepy wine cellar, unheated rooms, and a crumbling bell tower. The remote location is made even more ominous for its winter setting and raging snowstorm.

Chapters alternate between Amelia and Adam, and another woman, Robin, a recluse in a small cottage nearby. There are also letters that Adam’s wife writes to him every year on their anniversary, and a unique spin on the game of rock, paper, scissors. This is one of those books where it’s difficult to say much without giving away spoilers. I will say that I was mesmerized from start to finish, gobsmacked by the twists, and enamored of the creepy, snowbound setting. I read late into the night to finish it, then found it disturbing, haunting, and utterly satisfying. What a winner!

BOOK REVIEW TUESDAY: Someone Knows by Lisa Scottoline, Lady Sunshine by Amy Mason Down

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Happy last week of September! How the heck did we get here so fast? Hubby and I just came off a week’s vacation at the beach. It was wonderful, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Check out below to see what happens when you eat too much seafood. Fortunately, I was able to walk it off the next day, thanks to a Goodyear tire, LOL!

I have two book reviews today, both 5-star novels, so I’m excited to share them. Here we go!

BOOK BLURB:

Allie Garvey is heading home to the funeral of a childhood friend. Allie is not only grief-stricken, she’s full of dread. Because going home means seeing the other two people with whom she shares an unbearable secret.

Twenty years earlier, a horrific incident shattered the lives of five teenagers, including Allie. Drinking and partying in the woods, they played a dangerous prank that went tragically wrong, turning deadly. The teenagers kept what happened a secret, believing that getting caught would be the worst thing that could happen. But time has taught Allie otherwise. Not getting caught was far worse.

Allie has been haunted for two decades by what she and the others did, and by the fact that she never told a soul. The dark secret has eaten away at her, distancing her from everyone she loves, including her husband. Because she wasn’t punished by the law, Allie has punished herself, and it’s a life sentence.

Now, Allie stands on the precipice of losing everything. She’s ready for a reckoning, determined to learn how the prank went so horribly wrong. She digs to unearth the truth, but reaches a shocking conclusion that she never saw coming–and neither will the reader.

A deeply emotional examination of family, marriage, and the true nature of justice, Someone Knows is Lisa Scottoline’s most powerful novel to date. Startling, page-turning, and with an ending that’s impossible to forget, this is a tour de force by a beloved author at the top of her game.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Allie returns to her hometown, twenty years after a calamity that altered her life. As fifteen-year-old, she and a group of friends played a prank that resulted in a tragic death. Crippled by grief, she has been going through the motions of living, not even able to tell her husband what happened that dreadful night.

When one of the friends who were with her dies unexpectedly, Allie returns home to attend the funeral. It forces her to come face to face with the others. She wants to dig for the truth of how the prank could have gone so horribly wrong, but not everyone feels the same, including someone who wants silence kept at all costs.

The book is divided into two sections, the first devoted to Allie’s past. When she makes a discovery in the woods, she becomes part of a small circle of teens whose lives will be altered by the find. There are multiple POVs, a good six to seven, which covers the teens and several adults. At the start, it can be a little daunting to keep track of the characters and how they relate to each other. Narration is third person, each chapter headed by the character sharing events. As someone who enjoys books with multiple narrators, I was able to settle in rather quickly.

The second half of the book is set in the present, twenty years after the tragedy. There are several characters I really felt for, especially Larry, Allie’s husband. Of special note, the scenes in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey were so vividly written, I felt like I was there, swallowed by pitch-black darkness and fleeing through the woods. The twists at the end were not any I saw coming. I thought I had the “who” figured out but was proven wrong.

If you enjoy a good domestic thriller that puts family and friendships under a microscope this story is perfect. Excellent character development, polished writing, and a supensful ending.

BOOK BLURB:

ONE ICONIC FAMILY. ONE SUMMER OF SECRETS. THE DAZZLING SPIRIT OF 1970S CALIFORNIA.

For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods… until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night.

Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is an enjoyable novel that explores families and friendships. Seventeen-year-old Jackie Pierce spends one magical summer at the bohemian estate of her uncle, a legendary folk singer. There, among the free-spirits, creative thinkers, and musicians who come and go, she meets her cousin Willa. Though opposites in many ways, the girls form a fast and deep friendship.

I loved scenes of them exploring beaches, collecting sea glass, or wandering nighttime woods. The author brings the magic of summer and teen years beautifully to life. The descriptions are so vivid it’s easy to get lost in them. But something happens at the end of that enchanted summer that causes Willa to disappear.

Twenty years later, Jackie inherits her uncle’s estate (called the Sandcastle) and returns to the property with the intent of preparing it for sale. Her plans take a detour when a music producer, his crew, and musicians show up to record a tribute album to her uncle.

The dual timelines of the novel are set in 1979 and 1999. I was more partial to the chapters set in the past—perhaps because of the hippie-like atmosphere of the Sandcastle and the assortment of colorful characters who populated it. There’s also the sense of nostalgia evoked by summer magic in a year I remember well.

This is a “quiet” book which moves at a slow pace. It isn’t even until the last quarter of the novel that events surrounding Willa’s disappearance gradually unfold. The strength of the story lies in its summer vibes and the amazing friendship between the girls. I was a little disappointed in the actual “mystery” but loved the ending. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 for review purposes.

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Death of Jane Lawrence by Caitlin Starling #gothicfiction #historicalfantasy

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Happy hump day! Today, I have a difficult three-star review to share. I often think these are the hardest to write, because the book had good points and those that came up short. Half of this story held me mesmerized. The other half… not so much. See what you think.

BOOK BLURB:

From the Bram Stoker-nominated author of The Luminous Dead comes a gothic fantasy horror–The Death of Jane Lawrence.

“Intense and amazing! It’s like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell meets Mexican Gothic meets Crimson Peak.” —BookRiot

Practical, unassuming Jane Shoringfield has done the calculations, and decided that the most secure path forward is this: a husband, in a marriage of convenience, who will allow her to remain independent and occupied with meaningful work. Her first choice, the dashing but reclusive doctor Augustine Lawrence, agrees to her proposal with only one condition: that she must never visit Lindridge Hall, his crumbling family manor outside of town. 

Yet on their wedding night, an accident strands her at his door in a pitch-black rainstorm, and she finds him changed. Gone is the bold, courageous surgeon, and in his place is a terrified, paranoid man—one who cannot tell reality from nightmare, and fears Jane is an apparition, come to haunt him. By morning, Augustine is himself again, but Jane knows something is deeply wrong at Lindridge Hall, and with the man she has so hastily bound her safety to. 

Set in a dark-mirror version of post-war England, Caitlin Starling crafts a new kind of gothic horror from the bones of the beloved canon. This Crimson Peak-inspired story assembles, then upends, every expectation set in place by Shirley Jackson and Rebecca, and will leave readers shaken, desperate to begin again as soon as they are finished.

“Don’t read this one alone at night; Caitlin Starling has done it again. Unsettling, atmospheric, and downright brutal at times, The Death of Jane Lawrence will continue to haunt you long after you leave Lindridge Hall…if the house lets you leave, that is.” —Genevieve Gornichec, author of The Witch’s Heart

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for my ARC.

I loved the first quarter of this book. Jane is an intelligent, sensible woman who proposes a marriage of convenience to Dr. Augustine Lawrence. Although he declines at first, the two soon come to a business arrangement of how the marriage will be conducted. He has certain ground rules involving his family estate, Lindridge Hall, and Jane agrees to his terms.

What starts out as a beautifully Gothic and atmospheric read morphs into a convoluted plot of dark spirits, superstition, and ritual magic.

All of those would normally result in a stellar read for me, but the execution and underlying threads fizzled. On the plus side, the characters of Jane and Augustine are well developed and the awkwardness of their relationship, especially at the beginning, held me enthralled.

Secrets abound, especially as related to Lindridge Hall, a locked cellar door, rituals, and Augustine’s past. The writing is descriptive and dense, beautiful language that needs to be savored. After Jane is introduced to Augustine’s colleagues, who form a magical cult, the plot gets messy.

There are moments of surgical gore, plenty of metaphysical posturing, and a chapter near the end that borders on the abstract. The final conclusion was fantastic, but the path to reach that point was muddled and overly long. I’m sure many readers will enjoy this book for its dark imagery, odd alternate reality, and Gothic feel. This is one that comes down to a matter of preference.

Book Review Tuesday: Solstice Retribution by Judi Lynn, The Dime Museum Murders by Daniel Stashower #muddyriver #harryhoudini

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Happy Tuesday, and happy September! If you reside in the U.S. or Canada, I hope you enjoyed your long Labor Day weekend. Today, I have two books to share. I’ve been a fan of Judy Lynn’s Muddy River series since book one–a cozy, sometimes not so cozy mystery series that combines supernatural elements with a cast of intriguing preternatural characters. I also discovered a new series starring a man who has long fascinated me–Harry Houdini. See below.

BOOK BLURB:

Hester’s close friend, Carlotta, has gone to a witches’ solstice festival with Jason, the young neighbor she took under her wing. When she learned that he had cancer, she sent him to Hester and Raven to be “changed.” He chose to become an owl shifter, but is still very new at being a supernatural, so she wants to introduce him to her witch friends. The festival is close to Muddy River, so Carlotta plans on stopping to visit Hester after the ceremonies are finished.

But Jason calls Hester to tell her that Carlotta has disappeared, so have two other witches, and Hester suspects foul play. She and Raven race to the isolated, wooded area, only to find a dead body near the parking area. Not Carlotta’s. Once they start seriously looking for Hester’s friend, they discover that someone has come to the ceremonies that honor Hecate with plans of revenge that date back to the witch trials at Salem. Hester’s family died there, and she thought she knew the truth. But she was wrong.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Another entertaining story in this wonderful collection that combines mystery with the supernatural. Hester is a powerful witch who heads her coven in Muddy River—a community of shapeshifters, vampires, witches, fae and other supernatural creatures and beings. Raven, her mate, is a fire-demon and the Enforcer for their town. In this tale, they travel to a nearby area where a solstice celebration among witches is taking place. Unfortunately, it also includes murder. Not one, but multiple victims.

As Hester and Raven dig deeper into motive and suspects, Hester’s own past during the Salem witch hunts come into play. For long-time fans of the series, we learn a bit more about her background, but this is easily read as a standalone. There are numerous potential suspects, a number of whom I loathed. The mystery is nicely contained until the end with the motive something I would never have suspected. Even Hester’s ocelot familiar, Claws, has moments to shine.

There are several new characters, some whom I suspect will settle in Muddy River. As an added bonus, there’s also a short Yuletide story at the end of the book that acts as an introduction to Jason, one of the secondary characters in the tale. All around, a thoroughly engaging story.

BOOK BLURB:

Harry Houdini and his brother, Dash, are called to solve the murder of a toy tycoon in this first locked room mystery starring the legendary real-life magicians
 
New York City, 1897: Young escapologist Harry Houdini is struggling to get the recognition he craves from the ruthless entertainment industry. But when toy tycoon Branford Wintour is found murdered in his Fifth Avenue mansion, detectives call upon Houdini to help solve this mysterious crime, ushering in a new era of Houdini’s career: amateur sleuth.
 
When Harry and his brother Dash reach the scene of the murder, they discover Wintour was found dead in a room that was locked from the inside out—the result of a cruel magic trick. Together, the brothers Houdini launch their first ever investigation, venturing into the bizarre world of rare curios and the collectors who will pay any price to own them.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The first book in the Harry Houdini mystery series, this certainly kept me entertained. Harry is still struggling for recognition as an escape artist, assisted in his act by his wife, Bess, and brother Dash. It’s Harry and Dash who become involved in solving the murder of a toy tycoon. The two brothers play off each other well, and the author portrays Houdini in a manner that rings true. I loved the 1897 setting and definitely plan on reading other books in this series.

Book Review Tuesday: If the Light Escapes by Brenda Marie Smith #dystopian #postapocalyptic

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Last week it was my pleasure to host Brenda Marie Smith, the author of If the Light Escapes, with a riveting look at her life living off the grid in a hippie commune. If you missed that post, you can find it HERE. After reading it, you’ll understand why she has the perfect background to write a post apocalyptic novel. Today, I’m pleased to present my five star review. On a side note, I was honored to be asked to provide a cover blurb for the book. Isn’t that cover striking?

BOOK BLURB:

“Gritty and powerful… takes the reader on an emotionally charged and adrenaline-fueled journey that lingers long after the last page is read.”
—Mae Clair, author of the Point Pleasant series and the Hode’s Hill series

The standalone sequel to IF DARKNESS TAKES US

A solar electromagnetic pulse has fried the US grid. Now, northern lights are in Texas—three thousand miles farther south than where they belong. The universe won’t stop screwing with eighteen-year-old Keno Simms. All that’s left for him and his broken family is farming their Austin subdivision, trying to eke out a living on poor soil in the scorching heat. Keno’s one solace is his love for Alma, who has her own secret sorrows. When he gets her pregnant, he vows to keep her alive no matter what. Yet armed marauders and nature itself collude against him, forcing him to make choices that rip at his conscience. If the Light Escapes is post-apocalyptic science fiction set in a near-future reality, a coming-of-age story told in the voice of a heroic teen who’s forced into manhood too soon.

“Brenda Marie Smith stuns a gain with the breathtaking sequel to her debut. With her skill for detail and character, Smith captivates us with Keno’s kindness and humanity while also exploring the capacity for violence that lurks within all of us.”
—Aden Polydoros, author of THE CITY BEAUTIFUL

“IF THE LIGHT ESCAPES is a rich coming-of-age story about the legacy of family, infused with hopefulness and humanity.”
—Laura Creedle, author of THE LOVE LETTERS OF ABELARD AND LILY

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Picking up where book one left off, If the Light Escapes is a powerful and emotional read. With Bea, the central character from book one no longer able to lead her family and their neighborhood, Keno, her eighteen-year-old grandson finds himself shouldering most of the burden. Time has passed since the sun sent an enormous pulsar flare to Earth, knocking out power and throwing humanity back decades, if not centuries. Creature comforts are gone, medicine comes down to home remedies, food amounts to what can be grown or hunted, and the greatest danger comes from human predators.

This is not a typical apocalyptic read. The story takes place in a single small neighborhood and close vicinity. The author tells a gritty and emotional tale, brutal yet gilded with hope. The emotions the characters experience are heart-wrenching. Particularly Keno who’s forced to make tough decisions, including judgements about members of his own family. What he faces and experiences forever change boy to man.

The last half of the book left me wrung out, both emotionally, and from the adrenaline-fueled closing. The story is grim in many ways, but it speaks to the souls of the characters. A break-down, and at the same time, a reinforcement of humanity. There is no gloss on how people react. When called for, the author shows us all the ugliness inherent with the need to protect loved ones. Also of note are the descriptions. From living in a time when you shower in the rain, plant, tend gardens and ration supplies, the experiences are brought to life with vivid and forceful prose.

A thoroughly engaging novel that will make you appreciate the many comforts of home—including being able to curl up with your Kindle to read this compelling story!

Trigger warnings: Language

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig #ghosts #suspense

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Today, I’m sharing another book I was on the fence about reading. Based on the blurb, I was afraid the story might be too dark for me, but I’m glad I took a chance. I had no problems navigating the pages. This is such an unusual tale, I’ll let the blurb and my review carry any further thoughts.

BLURB:

family returns to their hometown—and to the dark past that haunts them still—in this masterpiece of literary horror by the New York Times bestselling author of Wanderers

“The dread, the scope, the pacing, the turns—I haven’t felt all this so intensely since The Shining.”—Stephen Graham Jones, New York Times bestselling author of The Only Good Indians

Long ago, Nathan lived in a house in the country with his abusive father—and has never told his family what happened there. 

Long ago, Maddie was a little girl making dolls in her bedroom when she saw something she shouldn’t have—and is trying to remember that lost trauma by making haunting sculptures. 

Long ago, something sinister, something hungry, walked in the tunnels and the mountains and the coal mines of their hometown in rural Pennsylvania. 

Now, Nate and Maddie Graves are married, and they have moved back to their hometown with their son, Oliver.

And now what happened long ago is happening again . . . and it is happening to Oliver. He meets a strange boy who becomes his best friend, a boy with secrets of his own and a taste for dark magic. 

This dark magic puts them at the heart of a battle of good versus evil and a fight for the soul of the family—and perhaps for all of the world. But the Graves family has a secret weapon in this battle: their love for one another.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve never read Chuck Wendig before, but this book was quite the experience! Nate, a former cop, moves his wife, Maddie, and fifteen-year-old son, Oliver back to his childhood home in a rural area of Pennsylvania. The house holds horrible memories for Nate—his father was horribly abusive—but it promises a new beginning away from the city. Right from the start there are a number of odd things that take place. Probably why the first half of the book was my favorite. I have a passion for early shivers and goosebumps and loved the creepy, unexplained strangeness taking place.

Build-up was fantastic—whispers of a serial killer executed decades before, a “felsenmeer” or field of boulders, an old tunnel that spurned urban legends, an abandoned coal mine, a deer and insects behaving strangely, and a mysterious figure in the woods. Having lived in Pennsylvania all my life, I could relate to so many of the rural surroundings, locales, and places that were mentioned.

But the heart of the book is its characters. I was so wrapped up in the lives of Nate, Maddie, and Oliver. Even secondary characters like Fig, Jed, and Caleb are fully fleshed out and given strong supporting roles.

It’s Oliver who turns out to be the key player. He’s gifted, but the importance of that gift only becomes apparent as the suspense rachets from simmer to boil. The story is definitely “out there.” Be prepared to dip your toes into elements of fantasy and magical realism along with horror. There are multiple twists and turns from start to finish but the ending melds everything together for a strong conclusion.

Wending has a gift with words. I loved his prose, at times beautiful and at other times vivid enough to make me feel squeamish. I also enjoyed the afterword in which he described the previous incarnations of the book and how it came to be. I’m glad he stuck with what was first a “trunk novel.” I expect this one will haunt a lot of readers.

Book Review Tuesday: The One by John Marrs #literaryfiction #sciencefiction @johnmarrs1

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I’ve only got one book to share today but it’s one I’ve had my eye on for quite some time. I sat on the fence for a while, until reviews told me I should risk the plunge, and I’m glad I did. This is already a Netflix series, and although I haven’t seen any of the episodes I’m curious how these intriguing stories (there are several plot lines to follow) will play out on TV.

BOOK BLURB:

Now on Netflix!

The USA Today bestseller

Wall Street Journal Best Science Fiction Book of 2018

“Just try to put this gripping thriller down once you pick it up.” —
AARP

“A shock on every other page.” —Wall Street Journal

How far would you go to find The One?

A simple DNA test is all it takes. Just a quick mouth swab and soon you’ll be matched with your perfect partner—the one you’re genetically made for.

That’s the promise made by Match Your DNA. A decade ago, the company announced that they had found the gene that pairs each of us with our soul mate. Since then, millions of people around the world have been matched. But the discovery has its downsides: test results have led to the breakup of countless relationships and upended the traditional ideas of dating, romance and love.

Now five very different people have received the notification that they’ve been “Matched.” They’re each about to meet their one true love. But “happily ever after” isn’t guaranteed for everyone. Because even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking than others…

A word-of-mouth hit in the United Kingdom, The One is a fascinating novel that shows how even the simplest discoveries can have complicated consequences.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A DNA gene has been discovered to match you with your perfect mate—your soul mate, or “the one” you are meant to spend your life with. In. Marrs’ novel, the reader follows the lives of five different couples who have been matched. Told in third person POV, chapters alternate between couples from the moment they discover they’ve been matched. And no, this is definitely NOT a romance novel. Each situation is unique, bringing complications and problems, with an intriguing twist per couple. I found the chapters easy to follow. Swift pacing and hook chapter endings kept me so engrossed, I finished the book in two days.

There are several surprises in store, some bigger than the others, with a final series of twists that explode one after the other. It’s difficult to say anything about each couple situation without giving away spoilers, but all five story lines are highly interesting. This one would make for great book club discussions.

Book Review Tuesday: The Family Across the Street by Nicole Trope @nicoletrope, Missing Molly by Natalie Barelli #suspense

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Hello! I am back from vacation and excited to dive into August. I had a wonderful time relaxing with plenty of pool days and also a fantastic time out with hubby and friends. Oh, and did I mention shopping, my favorite sport? I also had the luxury of enjoying several books, two of which I’m delighted to share today. Both of these fall into the suspense genre, and both kept me intrigued for different reasons. Take a look and see what you think. . .

BOOK BLURB:

Sometimes, the most perfect families are hiding the most terrible secrets. How well do you know the people next door…?

Everybody wants to live on Hogarth Street, the pretty, tree-lined avenue with its white houses. The new family, The Wests, are a perfect fit. Katherine and Josh seem so in love and their gorgeous five-year-old twins race screeching around their beautiful emerald-green lawn.

But soon people start to notice: why don’t they join backyard barbecues? Why do they brush away offers to babysit? Why, when you knock at the door, do they shut you out, rather than inviting you in?

Every family has secrets, and on the hottest day of the year, the truth is about to come out. As a tragedy unfolds behind closed doors, the dawn chorus is split by the wail of sirens. And one by one the families who tried so hard to welcome the Wests begin to realise: Hogarth Street will never be the same again.

A completely gripping, twist-packed psychological thriller, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty, Sally Hepworth and Lisa Jew

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

MY REVIEW:

Thank you Bookouture and NetGalley for my ARC!

This book isn’t at all what I anticipated from the blurb. I was expecting a gradual unraveling of secrets related to a family on a suburban street. Instead, I got a heinous situation pretty much right off the bat, and one that escalated as the book progressed. The entire storyline plays out during the course of a single day, the scenes conjuring a heightened sense of claustrophobia along with escalating danger.

There are a number of characters who surprise you. When the book started, I wasn’t sure how I felt about and delivery driver, Logan, or neighbor, Gladys, but both become standout characters and steal the show. I’m not sure what it says about me that I was more invested in them than Katherine, the woman in danger.

I don’t want to say much about this novel for fear of giving the plot away. There are scenes that made me uncomfortable that touched on domestic abuse (I usually avoid such books but didn’t realize the theme before downloading it). That said, as intense as some scenes were, they didn’t turn me off from the story. I found it engrossing and was completely caught off guard by the twist at the end. This was a well-executed story, but I felt the blurb was misleading, thus the story was not what I expected. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 for review purposes.

BOOK BLURB:

Everyone has secrets, and Rachel Holloway is no exception. She’s worked hard to keep the past where it belongs: dead and buried. And so far, she’s been very successful. 

But now the small newspaper where she works wants to produce a podcast on a cold case:  the disappearance twelve years ago of young Molly Forster.

Some secrets should never see the light of day, and as far as Rachel is concerned, whatever happened to little Molly is one of them. Rachel has a life now, a boyfriend she loves and a three-year-old daughter she adores, and she will do anything to protect them.

But to do that, no one can ever know that she is Molly Forster.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m a fan of Natalie Barelli. This is the third book of hers I’ve read. I positively LOVED The Accident and The House Keeper. Missing Molly was an enjoyable read but not quite on par with the other two.

Molly Forster was the sole survivor the night her older sister and her parents were murdered. Only twelve at the time, she witnessed the killings and immediately went into hiding. Since then, she has lived under the radar through false identities. Now, her past has caught up with her in the form of a new podcast “Missing Molly,” which vows to discover what really happened to “little Molly.”

Sounds like a great set-up, right? Especially given Molly (now going by the name of Rachel) works for the newspaper that is producing the podcast. She ends up in a hands-on position, searching for answers, while trying to discourage interest in the podcast. Unable to do that, she tries to steer the focus away from finding Molly to what really happened the night of the killings—all the while trying to conceal her identity.

The first half of the book was exceptional. Molly’s panic has her acting erratically and making bad decisions. Her boyfriend (they have a young daughter together) and her closest friend fear she’s having psychotic episodes. The fast pace and drama kept me flipping pages. I really felt for Molly. Once she and a co-worker begin digging into the Forster family, mystery and investigative angles come into play. It’s clear the wrong person was convicted of the murders, and the true killer is still out there, getting closer to Molly so he can finish the job he started all those years ago.

Tension builds at the end, but I was disappointed in the overall revelation of the killer and the cover-up that took place. His appearance in Molly’s life happened too quickly, as did the wrap at the end. I did think the scenes that take place on a bridge were exceptionally good, and I was happy with the final ending. Overall, this is a diverting book and one that will certainly keep readers entertained. A solid read, just not on the level of some of Barelli’s other work. Either way, I remain a dedicated fan and look forward to other releases from this author. 3.5 stars rounded to 4 for review purposes.

Book Review Tuesday: Falling by T.J. Newman #thriller #suspense @T_J_Newman

Warm and cozy window seat with cushions and a opened book, light through vintage shutters, rustic style home decor. Small cat on window seat, along with coffee cup by pillow, Words Book Review Tuesday superimposed over image

Hoo-boy, hoo-boy! I just finished a book that has to be the BEACH READ OF THE SUMMER! It has “blockbuster movie” written all over it, and I have no doubt Hollywood is already knocking at the author’s door. Falling is definitely one of my top reads of 2021. The hard copy was just a few dollars more than the Kindle version, and with a cover like this, I couldn’t resist indulging. I’m pleased to say the story lives up to the amazing cover and the hype. I’ve been seeing this one all over the place and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. What a thrill ride!

BOOK BLURB:

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“T. J. Newman has written the perfect thriller! A must-read.” —Gillian Flynn
“Stunning and relentless. This is Jaws at 35,000 feet.” —Don Winslow
Falling is the best kind of thriller…Nonstop, totally authentic suspense.” —James Patterson
“Amazing…Intense suspense, shocks, and scares…Chilling.” —Lee Child

You just boarded a flight to New York.

There are one hundred and forty-three other passengers onboard.

What you don’t know is that thirty minutes before the flight your pilot’s family was kidnapped.

For his family to live, everyone on your plane must die.

The only way the family will survive is if the pilot follows his orders and crashes the plane.

Enjoy the flight.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Beach Read of the summer!

I’m already anticipating the blockbuster movie. This is a story that keeps you enthralled from page one, but continually ups the stakes with each successive chapter. During the last half, I couldn’t flip pages fast enough, annoyed by the slightest distraction that threatened to pull me from the book.

Captain Bill Hoffman has taken a last minute flight from LA to NY, much to the chagrin of his wife, Carrie. She was counting on his presence at their son’s Little League game but Bill’s decision quickly spirals into a nightmare for both of them–and countless others.

Targeted by terrorists, Carrie frantically tries to keep her family alive on the ground while Bill faces impossible decisions in the air, every choice impacting the lives of the passengers aboard his flight.

This is an adrenaline-fueled, emotional roller coaster. Be prepared to gnaw your fingernails and teeter on a seesaw of right vs. wrong. Many lives comes into play–not just Bill, Carrie, and their children, but Bill’s flight crew, FBI personnel, and those on board. I especially loved senior flight attendant, Jo and her courage in the face of impossible circumstances.

Some reviewers have called a few specific scenes corny, but I loved them. I saw them playing out on the “big screen” complete with gasps and cheers from a movie-going audience, myself included.

The author said she had forty-one rejections before finding an agent to take a chance on her manuscript. His vision is our gain. Newman, a former flight attendant, wrote this book on red-eye flights over a ten year period. I’m thankful she stuck with the manuscript. The finished novel ranks among those books I consider my top reads of the year. I can’t say enough about the frantic pace in which the last half plays out. I have no doubt that Hollywood will scoop this one up quickly.

Book Reviews by Mae Clair: The Perfect Guests by Emma Rous #psychologicalfiction Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid #literaryfiction #sagafiction

Striped kitten lying on open book, eyeglasses resting on pages. Book and kitten on white blanket

Hello, and Happy Wednesday! I’m sharing two books today, but because the blurb for the second is especially long, I’m skipping blurbs and going straight to my reviews. These are both worthy pool/beach reads. Both also employ alternating timelines, a technique I never tire of reading. I’ve been fortunate to have hit so many engrossing stories lately. If you’re a fan of the board game “Clue,” I think you’ll find the first one especially interesting.

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is a twisty mystery that involves three different time periods, all of which converge for a spectacular finish. As a huge fan of the board game Clue, the present timeline immediately drew me.

Sadie is a bit actress looking for a break when she’s offered the chance to play “Miss Lamb” at an old mansion known as Raven Hall. Other guests also assume roles—Professor Owl, Colonel Otter, Miss Mouse, Lady Nightingale, and Mrs. Shrew. Each guest has been given individual cards about their characters’ actions and clothes in a single themed color. As Miss Lamb, Sadie dresses in white. Mrs. Shrew dresses in blue, etc. Sound familiar? I was in “Clue” heaven! The guests have been gathered to solve the murder of Lord Nightingale as a test-run for a new business that hosts murder mystery parties.

In the past, Beth, an orphan, is taken by her aunt to live at Raven Hall as a companion for Nina, the daughter of the owners. Both girls are fourteen. After some initial wariness, they form a close bond, going from friendship to the attachment of sisters.

The scenes in the past are every bit intriguing—if not more so—then those in the present. Beth is a likeable character, who just wants to feel part of a family. She constantly worries if she doesn’t do everything perfectly, she’ll be sent back to the orphanage.

But aside from Markus and Leonora (Nina’s parents) insisting Nina can never leave the property or go into town, Beth’s time at Raven Hall is filled with fun and the closeness she longs for—until she is talked into participating in a strange charade. One that will ultimately have far reaching consequences.

There is also a third timeline, not as in depth as the others. Told from the POV of young woman, it isn’t until the middle of the book that the reader discovers who is narrating those sections.

It may sound like there is a lot going on in this novel (and there is) but it isn’t difficult to follow. The chapters are fairly short, and the pacing is excellent. Mysteries build steadily in both the past and the present. I was impressed by the number of subtle clues the author plants that turn into timebombs at the end. The final chapters deliver staggering revelations, not one but several. Then when I thought there were no surprises left, and I could finally catch my breath, the author dropped a final twisty shock in the closing pages.

If you love a good mystery, this is one you don’t want to miss. A spectacular read and another candidate for my Favorites List this year!

MY REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I have a weakness for stories that use parties as a central theme. Oodles of people thrown together, many faking a surface gloss while harboring resentments or grappling with hidden issues. Secrets pile up like kindling waiting for the match to result in a major conflagration. In this case the fire is real.

Nina Riva is holding a posh, highly anticipated house party in 1983. A model, and the daughter of legendary singer, Mick Riva, she and her three siblings attract attention merely by the association of their last name—despite the fact Mick hasn’t been part of their lives since they were small children.

Nina’s party, attended by actors, agents, models, sports pros, hanger-ons, wannabes, and Malibu’s elite begins on a summer night at 7PM. By 7AM the next morning, the house will be in flames. During the course of that twelve hours, secrets are spilled, relationships are made, others broken, lives altered—all during a night of luxury, drugs, excess, and revelations.

There are a lot of characters in this book but they’re surprisingly easy to keep track of—perhaps because of the author’s use of third person POV. Head hopping happens frequently, but is rarely distracting. That might be because the scenes are handled so skillfully or because the characters are fully fleshed out and unique. In addition to Nina, there is Jay, her brother and a champion surfer, Hud, another brother and professional photographer, and Kit, the youngest sister who is struggling to find her footing in life.

Chapters in the first half alternate between past and present with a look at Mick Riva, his rise from struggling singer to fame, and his relationship with June, the mother of Nina and her siblings.

This is a story of family dynamics. Of how people who love each other pull together, sacrifice for one another, and also sometimes hurt each other. How some obstacles can be overcome, and others are not so easily set aside. I found it intriguing from start to finish, the use of short chapters and the past/present story line well utilized to keep the plot moving forward. There are characters to admire, others to feel sorry for and still others to loathe. When it was all said and done, I thought the ending was perfect.