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.