REVIEW: WATCHING THE DETECTIVES, BY JULIE MULHERN

Ellison Russell wanted a decorator, not a corpse. Too bad she finds Mrs. White in the study killed with a revolver. Things go from bad to worse when she finds Mr. White in the dining room killed with a candlestick. With so many bodies, is it any wonder Detective Anarchy Jones’ new partner considers Ellison a suspect?

With the country club gossips talking a mile a minute, an unexpected cocktail party, a visit from Aunt Sis, and a romantic decision, Ellison hardly has time to think about murder. Unfortunately, the killer has plenty of time to think about her.

My Thoughts: In this fifth book of the series, Ellison is her usual wise-cracking self who talks to her Mr. Coffee in the mornings and regularly resists the push and pull of her mother’s directives.

Her teenage daughter Grace is as feisty as ever, but she is not like the annoying teens we often see in books. She has a layer of maturity that can only come from being Ellison’s daughter.

Watching the Detectives is set in the 1970s, in St. Louis, Missouri, like the previous books in the series, but this book introduces some new elements: spousal abuse in the country club set, something Ellison was not expecting. Another new element: a detective partnering with Anarchy, an annoying man named Detective Peters. From the descriptions of him and his crumpled trench coat, he could have been a stand-in for Colombo. Except that he lacks that detective’s amiable approach.

As always, the red herrings kept me guessing until the very end…and then Detective Anarchy Jones rides in to save the day. 5 stars for this delightful and fun read.

***

REVIEW: GOOD ME, BAD ME, BY ALI LAND

Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.

My Thoughts: In Milly’s first person narrative voice, we see the world around her from her perspective, and it is a sad, emotionally devastating world.

Living in the foster home of a psychologist named Mike, one would think she would have the best care and treatment available to her, but early on I could tell that Mike had his own agenda, and he could also be clueless about his own family. His wife, Saskia, is remote and probably narcissistic, and his teenage daughter Phoebe is able to hide her feelings, her attitudes, and her behavior. Not just in a typical teenage way, but in a hurtful, pathological way.

Milly, on the other hand, proves to be adept at her own secret agenda, and as more time goes by, we see her behavior ratchet up to an extremely manipulative level as she hears her mother’s imaginary voice guiding her and reminding her that she has to make her own wishes come true.

What will Milly do to secure her future? How does Phoebe’s behavior backfire on her? And how, finally, does Milly have the last word? A chilling story, Good Me, Bad Me captured me and held me hostage for the duration. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: EVERY LAST LIE, BY MARY KUBICA

Description: Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.

My Thoughts: Alternately narrated by Clara in the present and Nick “before,” Every Last Lie carries the reader on a fast-paced ride. Back and forth between the red herrings and the truth that seems well hidden, lurking beneath another sea of lies, I could not stop reading.

Why does Maisie have nightmares about a black car chasing them? Who is the “bad man” she sees in her dreams? Who keeps showing up in Clara’s back yard, leaving muddy footprints?

There are several seemingly threatening characters that might be perpetrators: the neighbor, Theo, who is aggressive and leaves bruises on his wife, and who has been in a shouting match with Nick. Then there is Connor, his once best friend and former partner, who shows up in the middle of the night to hit on Clara, and who had also been in a loud argument with Nick days before his death.

Surprisingly, there are some unexpected possibilities that show up at the last moment. And every time you turn around, another secret and lie is unveiled.

The strangeness of Nick’s story leads us through events until that fateful moment, and we think we have the answers…until a video shows up, revealing exactly what happened. But could it be true? Or is there more to the story?

I was shaken to the core by all the twists and turns, not wanting to miss a single sentence, just in case the final reveal would be hidden there, ready to jump out at me. A stunning read! 5 stars.***My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE SWALLOW’S NEST, BY EMILIE RICHARDS

Three women fight for the chance to raise the child they’ve all come to love…

When Lilia Swallow’s husband, Graham, goes into remission after a challenging year of treatment for lymphoma, the home and lifestyle blogger throws a party. Their best friends and colleagues attend to celebrate his recovery, but just as the party is in full swing, a new guest arrives. She presents Lilia with a beautiful baby boy, and vanishes.

Toby is Graham’s darkest secret—his son, conceived in a moment of despair. Lilia is utterly unprepared for the betrayal the baby represents, and perhaps more so for the love she begins to feel once her shock subsides. Now this unasked-for precious gift becomes a life changer for three women: Lilia, who takes him into her home and heart; Marina, who bore and abandoned him until circumstance and grief changed her mind; and Ellen, who sees in him a chance to correct the mistakes she made with her own son, Toby’s father.

A custody battle begins, and each would-be mother must examine her heart, confront her choices and weigh her dreams against the fate of one vulnerable little boy. Each woman will redefine family, belonging and love—and the results will alter the course of not only their lives, but also the lives of everyone they care for.

My Thoughts: Lilia, Graham’s wife, and the woman who has been raising little Toby since he was three months old, was the narrator I came to root for. I liked the excerpts from her blogging posts, including her opening lines: “Feathering your nest with imagination and love.” I enjoyed her thoughts about family and growing up in Hawaii, and the feeling of betrayal she felt when she learned of Graham’s infidelity. Then I rooted for her as she came to love the little boy and eventually forgive Graham. She always seemed to put the little boy first, even when the challenges of the custody case sometimes made her struggle.

Despite the annoying characteristics we first see in Marina, the birth mother, eventually I started to feel a bit of compassion for her, especially after we were granted an up close look at her mother and how she grew up. But then she would do something that would make me wonder about her judgment and her ability to put the child’s needs first…and I would revert to disliking her, worried about what would happen to the child if she grew bored or frustrated with him.

The least sympathetic character, in my opinion, was Ellen, the paternal grandmother, whose coldness and judgmental attitude put me off. But then we caught a glimpse of moments from her past as she spent time in the home she lived in when Graham was a baby. The house she bought after they moved and which she hung onto for sentimental reasons, although she maintained that it was an investment. Despite the evidence that she regretted the mistakes of the past, however, I felt insufficient hope that she could make the child’s needs a priority.

I wasn’t sure how the custody battle would turn out…I had my wishes, and then I thought about how courts usually rule with regard to biological connections. Would The Swallow’s Nest end in a way that would serve the child best? Would the characters come to accept the decision? I couldn’t stop turning the pages, so this one earned 5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: THE BREAKDOWN, BY B. A. PARIS

 

If you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?

Cass is having a hard time since the night she saw the car in the woods. It was on the winding rural road, in the middle of a downpour, and a woman was sitting inside—the woman who was killed.

She’s been trying to put the crime out of her mind; what could she have done, really? It’s a dangerous road to be on in the middle of a storm, and she probably would have been hurt herself if she’d stopped. Not only that, her husband would be furious if he knew she’d broken her promise not to take that shortcut home.

But since then, she’s been forgetting every little thing. Where she left the car; if she took her pills; even the alarm code.

The only thing she can’t forget is that woman, the woman she might have saved, and the terrible nagging guilt.

And the silent calls she’s receiving, or the feeling that someone’s watching her…


My Thoughts: I wasn’t very far into The Breakdown before I had suspicions about at least one of the characters. Someone is working overtime to mess with Cass’s head, so I couldn’t wait to find out who was guilty.How does the murder of Jane fit into whatever is being done to Cass? How will Cass eventually figure it all out? Could it have been as simple and serendipitous as a lost article that finds its way to her?

There were numerous characters to dislike, of course, including my No. 1 Nominee for Snake of the Year. While I like being surprised, I very happily loved finding out that I wasn’t wrong about that character.

Seeing how Cass pieced it all together was delightful. I couldn’t wait to find out what she would do with what she had learned. A delightful 5 star read for me.


***My eARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: INTO THE WATER, BY PAULA HAWKINS

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.
 
Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.
 
With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.
 
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

My Thoughts: After the body of Nel Abbott is found in the water, the police conclude that she jumped. But her sister Jules and her daughter Lena, a troubled teen, are not convinced.A short time before her mother’s death, Lena’s best friend Katie had died, also in the river, and Lena is keeping a big secret about the events leading up to Katie’s death. Lena and Katie’s brother Josh are holding what they know close, pretending ignorance.

Because of the history of the Drowning Pool, with suicides ending up there, and then, as Patrick Townsend had been known to say, the river took care of “troublesome women,” some of the women in the English village of Beckford are starting to speculate. Like Jules. And like the psychic Nicki. What stories are the women telling Nel, who is writing a book about the history of the river? Her focus is on how the women are punished, even though the men were also behaving badly.

Years before, Patrick Townsend’s wife Lauren, the mother of Sean, a police officer, died in that river. What had happened? Had she been troublesome? Why does Sean blank out suddenly, and why does he tug at his arm, where someone cut him at some point? What memories are he suppressing?

What really happened between the teacher, Mark Henderson, and Katie? What does Lena know?

Into the Water was a convoluted tale with many red herrings, too many characters, and a lot of confusing elements. At the very end, in the last lines, we finally realize what must have happened to at least one of the dead women. But was there more to the story? I could have enjoyed the story more if it had fewer narrators, but the themes of crime and punishment did keep me intrigued. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: HE SAID, SHE SAID, BY ERIN KELLY

In the summer of 1999, Kit and Laura travel to a festival in Cornwall to see a total eclipse of the sun. Kit is an eclipse chaser; Laura has never seen one before. Young and in love, they are certain this will be the first of many they’ll share.

But in the hushed moments after the shadow passes, Laura interrupts a man and a woman. She knows that she saw something terrible. The man denies it. It is her word against his.

The victim seems grateful. Months later, she turns up on their doorstep like a lonely stray. But as her gratitude takes a twisted turn, Laura begins to wonder—did she trust the wrong person?

15 years later, Kit and Laura are married and living under new names and completely off the digital grid: no Facebook, only rudimentary cell phones, not in any directories. But as the truth catches up to them, they realize they can no longer keep the past in the past.


My Thoughts: Alternating narrators that take us back and forth in time reveal the buried secrets and lies of He Said/She Said. Kit and Laura have lived in various parts of England, have followed many eclipses over the years, and at the present time, Laura is expecting twins.

Kit and Laura were caught up in the eclipse at Lizard Point, Cornwall; it was their first together, but what happened to Beth, a stranger, during the festival will change their lives forever. A series of disasters in the aftermath of a trial would lead to years that Kit and Laura lived off the grid, afraid to be photographed or shown on social media. Who and what was behind their fear? Were they each equally frightened, or was there more to the story?

Just when I thought that I truly understood what was happening with each of the primary characters—Laura, Kit, and Beth—a new revelation would come forth, changing how I viewed that character.

Danger came at them from every corner, but the source of it was just another secret well-hidden until the final pages. Who would be the biggest liar of all, and how would the darkest secrets ultimately derail their lives? 5 stars.


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

REVIEW: NOT A SOUND, BY HEATHER GUDENKAUF

When a tragic accident leaves nurse Amelia Winn deaf, she spirals into a depression that ultimately causes her to lose everything that matters—her job, her husband, David, and her stepdaughter, Nora. Now, two years later and with the help of her hearing dog, Stitch, she is finally getting back on her feet. But when she discovers the body of a fellow nurse in the dense bush by the river, deep in the woods near her cabin, she is plunged into a disturbing mystery that could shatter the carefully reconstructed pieces of her life all over again. 

As clues begin to surface, Amelia finds herself swept into an investigation that hits all too close to home. But how much is she willing to risk in order to uncover the truth and bring a killer to justice?


My Thoughts: As we begin Not a Sound, we are swept back to the moments before Amelia’s life changed drastically. It was an ordinary night serving as a nurse in the ER, tending to injured and battered women, collecting evidence, and offering comfort.

As she walks the latest patient to her car, another car comes screeching through the parking lot and slams into Amelia and her patient.

Two years later, we awake to another scenario. Amelia with her kayak and her dog Stitch. She runs and kayaks along the river near her home, a simple A-frame cabin. Everything she had before is gone. Her hearing, her husband, and her home. After the tragedy, she had turned to drinking, and her husband tossed her out.

Today she has a job interview at the cancer unit. Not as a nurse, but as a clerk scanning files. It is a start.

But finding a body in the river that day changes everything again. Not just a body, but a friend, another nurse who also worked with sexual assault victims. Amelia is immediately caught up in the case, and before she knows it, she is in the midst of another catastrophe.

Her best friend Jake is a cop, and he is wonderfully supportive, but even he is getting tired of the clues she brings to him. She thinks she has found another suspect for him, but then someone else rings the alarm bells. By the time she is really on the right track, she is in serious danger.

Why is Amelia’s husband David acting nice all of a sudden? Who has planted a bottle of wine on her counter at home? How did a bottle get into her drawer at work?

Finding out who is trying to sabotage her might just bring her face to face with a killer. A wonderfully captivating novel that kept me glued to the pages. 5 stars.


***I received an e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: A SEPARATION, BY KATIE KITAMURA

This is her story. About the end of her marriage. About what happened when Christopher went missing and she went to find him. These are her secrets, this is what happened…

A young woman has agreed with her faithless husband: it’s time for them to separate. For the moment it’s a private matter, a secret between the two of them. As she begins her new life, she gets word that Christopher has gone missing in a remote region in the rugged south of Greece; she reluctantly agrees to go look for him, still keeping their split to herself. In her heart, she’s not even sure if she wants to find him. As her search comes to a shocking breaking point, she discovers she understands less than she thought she did about her relationship and the man she used to love.

MY THOUGHTS:  In the mind of the unnamed woman who goes to Greece to search for her husband are the conflicting thoughts about their lives together and about what broke them apart.

She is propelled forward by the insistent voice of her mother-in-law, Isabella, but once she arrives in Greece, she is puzzled by the state of her husband’s hotel room. While he was not a neatnik, he was also not the sort of man who would leave this kind of disarray. After she has the staff box up his things, she stays on at the hotel for a while longer. She asks some questions, she ponders what she does know, and she considers the possibilities.

Then Christopher’s body is found. He had died due to blunt force trauma.

Now she is not quite sure how to feel, since they were unofficially separated, and there were issues of infidelity.

Why does she not tell anyone that the two were separated? What does Isabella say and do that will somehow make her decision for her?

My thoughts had me wondering why the story is told from the perspective of the unnamed wife. Does the fact of her namelessness reflect how unimportant she was to him? Could there be more to the story? By the end, we never find suitable answers to these questions, nor do we see a satisfactory resolution. We see characters adrift in a state of limbo.

The writing style, with the passive voice and the absence of quotation marks, kept me detached and uninterested in what might unfold as the days and weeks went by. A Separation could have been a compelling story, but for me, it was only okay. 3 stars.

***

REVIEW: SWEET WILLIAM, BY BERYL BAINBRIDGE

 

When dull professor Gerald leaves London for the United States, his fiancée, Ann, is a bit afraid and sad to see him go—never has he looked so handsome and masculine as when he’s about to board the plane. But a few days later at a religious service, Ann is beckoned to sit next to a stranger with yellow curls and a nose like a prizefighter’s. Her heart inexplicably begins to race; she feels like she has the flu. This stranger, William McClusky, tells Ann in his Scottish accent that he is a playwright who will be interviewed on TV the very next day. Furthermore, he promises to have a television dropped by her house so she can watch him! From this first bizarre seduction, Ann is infatuated, and in the days following, William begins to take over her life.
 
In the throes of the affair, Ann gives up her BBC job, helps a friend get an abortion, encourages adultery, and writes a break-up letter to her fiancé. Her engagement to Gerald had been rushed, after all, and was designed to serve her mother’s desires more than her own. With William, on the other hand, everything feels different. But is this new man really who he says he is? Is he a genius or a fraud, a compassionate soul or a cheater? Perhaps William is simply a means by which Ann can play out her dangerous fantasies and finally take part in the swinging sixties. Only one thing is certain: Now that she’s with him, there’s no turning back.
MY THOUGHTS:
Was Ann a victim of the times? Did she throw herself into the affair with William to prove something to herself, to show that she was “with it”? Or might she have been rebelling a bit against her mother’s life choices?It was hard for me to understand how this young woman could be so blinded by William, since it was clear to this reader that any charms he had were absent by the end of the first week or so. I just could not see anything “sweet” about this William. Furthermore, he very quickly took control of Ann’s life until she had nothing to depend upon but him, and his fickle ways often left her alone.

His behavior was “crazy-making.” I have known men like that. When the woman questions his behavior, or tries to get a straight answer out of him, he turns it around on her, making her believe that she is wrong or delusional.

I had a hard time continuing to read Sweet William, as all of the characters were unlikable in one way or another. I suspect that the author’s goal was to stir up a variety of emotions, maybe even laughter at the idiocy of the times and these characters. The book was well-written, but I did not enjoy it. 3.5 stars.

***