REVIEW: EVIL WOMAN, BY JULIE MULHERN

When Ellison Russell Jones returns from her honeymoon, she’s ready for a restful summer.

But while she was away, an older woman was murdered in her bed. And the police have questions only Ellison and her friends can answer.

She gets to be a sleuth. A real one! But with a new husband, her mother in the hospital (targeted by the murderer?), her sister as a house guest, one too many animals, and a full social calendar, Ellison can’t catch a break, much less a killer.

She’d better focus, or she may be the next victim.
 
 
 

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When Ellison comes home from her honeymoon, she and her new husband hope to enjoy a peaceful time together. But along the way, an Evil Woman has struck, and both Anarchy and Ellison are searching for a murderer. Someone who killed an old woman and attempted to kill Ellison’s mother.

Nothing could be more tempestuous than a quest like this one, but, as always, the author gives us an adventure to follow as we try to find the answers. I couldn’t stop turning the pages! 5 stars.

***
 
 
 

REVIEW: DAISY DARKER, BY ALICE FEENEY

Daisy Darker was born with a broken heart. Now after years of avoiding each other, Daisy Darker’s entire family is assembling for Nana’s 80th birthday party in her crumbling gothic house on a tiny tidal island. The family arrives, each of them harboring secrets. When the tide comes in, they will be cut off from the rest of the world for eight hours.

But at the stroke of midnight, as a storm rages, Nana is found dead. And an hour later, the next family member follows…

Trapped on an island where someone is killing them one by one, the Darkers must reckon with their present mystery as well as their past secrets, before the tide goes out and all is revealed. As seen on the TODAY show and picked by Book of the Month, Daisy Darker’s family secrets and Alice Feeney’s trademark shocking twists will keep readers riveted.

 

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As the astonishing and mystical story unfolds, Daisy Darker reveals the horrific dysfunction of a family that might seem ordinary on the surface, but the darkness in them all comes out in stunning ways as their evil is revealed.

The characters are more than simply flawed. They each have the potential to kill one another without even hesitating. When we follow the story of what happens to them on one Halloween night shut away on an island we keep expecting to learn that everything is just a magic trick. That nothing is the way it seems to be. Just when we realize that it might really be happening, the truth of it all is more frightening than we could have possibly dreamed in our worst nightmare.

I held my breath in the final moments as the gruesome details emerged. An unforgettable horror tale that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE HEIGHTS, BY LOUISE CANDLISH

The Heights is a tall, slender apartment building among warehouses in London. Its roof terrace is so discreet, you wouldn’t know it existed if you weren’t standing at the window of the flat directly opposite. But you are. And that’s when you see a man up there—a man you’d recognize anywhere. He may be older now, but it’s definitely him.

But that can’t be because he’s been dead for over two years. You know this for a fact.

Because you’re the one who killed him.

With Louise Candlish’s signature dark and twisty prose, The Heights shows “the ferocity of maternal love” (Hannah Beckerman, author of If Only I Could Tell You). “This cleverly constructed novel will keep readers enthralled until the last page” (Publishers Weekly, starred).

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When I read the last pages of The Heights, I was thinking “wow!” There were so many twists that I couldn’t even begin to imagine how it would all play out.

We meet the twisted and horrible character called Kieran, when he is foisted on the family by the school Lucas attends. The staff believe Lucas can be a good influence on him. As it turns out, Kieran leads Lucas and others down dark pathways. Just as there is a sense that he will also be corrupting Ellen’s daughter Freya, she makes a final desperate attempt to change things.

But before all of that comes about, Ellen and Vic collaborate to deal with Lucas’s death at the hands of Kieran.

I haven’t hated a character more than Kieran in a long while but seeing him through the eyes of the grieving parents added another layer to that emotion.

A great tale that I won’t soon forget, and it earned five stars, of course.

***

REVIEW: THE LYING WIFE, BY KATHRYN CROFT

Be careful what you wish for…

Callie has known sadness, and sometimes doubted she would ever have the life she wanted. When she meets James, also no stranger to grief, it seems as though her luck has changed. She becomes his wife, and in the process a step-mother to his two sons. Callie has finally got what she always imagined for herself.

But things don’t go to plan for Callie. She tries to get things right, but at every turn she makes mistakes. If she can only show her new family just how much she cares, perhaps everything will be okay. Yet the harder she tries, the more she fails. A split-second decision leads to her spiralling out of control, and there is no way back for Callie.

When the police arrest her for murder, the dark tale of Callie’s shocking fall from grace slowly unfolds. But how much is Callie willing to reveal about the choices she made? If those she cares for the most learn the truth, they will hate her. Will her secrets be her undoing? Or will she tell the truth, no matter the cost?

 

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As we follow Callie’s journey in The Lying Wife, we know that she is her own worst enemy. Whenever she has an opportunity to change the path she is on, she takes the wrong one.

We have to feel a little sorry for her, of course, especially when it comes to the horrible behavior of her stepsons. And I couldn’t help but feel annoyed with how clueless her husband James is when it comes to his sons.

Callie’s secrets from the past are another issue, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before everything came down on her.

But just when I think it is all sorted, a stunning surprise takes us down a completely different path. A 4.5 star review.

***

REVIEW: THE FOUNDLING, BY ANN LEARY

It’s 1927 and eighteen-year-old Mary Engle is hired to work as a secretary at a remote but scenic institution for mentally disabled women called the Nettleton State Village for Feebleminded Women of Childbearing Age. She’s immediately in awe of her employer—brilliant, genteel Dr. Agnes Vogel.

Dr. Vogel had been the only woman in her class in medical school. As a young psychiatrist she was an outspoken crusader for women’s suffrage. Now, at age forty, Dr. Vogel runs one of the largest and most self-sufficient public asylums for women in the country. Mary deeply admires how dedicated the doctor is to the poor and vulnerable women under her care.

Soon after she’s hired, Mary learns that a girl from her childhood orphanage is one of the inmates. Mary remembers Lillian as a beautiful free spirit with a sometimes-tempestuous side. Could she be mentally disabled? When Lillian begs Mary to help her escape, alleging the asylum is not what it seems, Mary is faced with a terrible choice. Should she trust her troubled friend with whom she shares a dark childhood secret? Mary’s decision triggers a hair-raising sequence of events with life-altering consequences for all.

Inspired by a true story about the author’s grandmother, The Foundling offers a rare look at a shocking chapter of American history. This gripping page-turner will have readers on the edge of their seats right up to the stunning last page…asking themselves, “Did this really happen here?”

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As we immerse ourselves in The Foundling, a story primarily narrated by our protagonist, Mary Engle, we are caught up in the 1920s world in which young women are treated as mental defectives based on flimsy evidence.

Mary first meets Lillian at the orphanage they both lived in for a few years. So when she sees her again at the asylum where she now works and where Lillian has been basically imprisoned, she is stunned. And then begins to wonder what else is not what it seems in the institution.

Descriptions of the women and their capabilities included labels used back then: morons, imbeciles, and idiots, and I am reminded of how, even in the 1960s, when I was studying psychology and visited the institutions of that day, those labels were still in use.

I couldn’t put this book down and loved the plan that Mary and a few others set up to help change things. A brilliant 5 star read that made me grateful that some things have turned around since those days.

***

 

REVIEW: LOCAL GONE MISSING, BY FIONA BARTON

Elise King is a successful and ambitious detective—or she was before a medical leave left her unsure if she’d ever return to work. She now spends most days watching the growing tensions in her small seaside town of Ebbing—the weekenders renovating old bungalows into luxury homes, and the locals resentful of the changes.

Elise can only guess what really happens behind closed doors. But Dee Eastwood, her house cleaner, often knows. She’s an invisible presence in many of the houses in town, but she sees and hears everything.

The conflicts boil over when a newcomer wants to put the town on the map with a weekend music festival, and two teenagers overdose on drugs. When a man disappears the first night of the festival, Elise starts digging for answers. Ebbing is a small town, but it’s full of secrets and hidden connections that run deeper and darker than Elise could have ever imagined.

 

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In the small village of Ebbing, we meet several characters whose lives are interconnected, and some of the layers are not known to us at first. But when a festival comes to town, several things happen that will shake everyone up. First, some teenagers are drugged, a man goes missing, and the residents begin to question what they know about any of them.

Local Gone Missing primarily features Charlie, an older man who seems well-liked, but for some reason, he appears to be completely out of it at the festival. As more people become aware of his disappearance, there are bits and pieces of information that are revealed, and the police detectives, including Elise, who is on leave at the time, begin to find strange little details about him that are puzzling. Alternating chapters bring in the voices of other characters, including Dee, a house cleaner who has access to all their homes, and who quietly seems to wrap herself around them through their habits and activities.

When more and more of the details are revealed, we learn that so much of each of their lives are twisted together, from the past and in the present, and it will take all of them to fit the pieces together. A 4.5 star read.

***

REVIEW: FLY GIRL, BY ANN HOOD

In 1978, in the tailwind of the golden age of air travel, flight attendants were the epitome of glamor and sophistication. Fresh out of college and hungry to experience the world—and maybe, one day, write about it—Ann Hood joined their ranks. After a grueling job search, Hood survived TWA’s rigorous Breech Training Academy and learned to evacuate seven kinds of aircraft, deliver a baby, mix proper cocktails, administer oxygen, and stay calm no matter what the situation.

In the air, Hood found both the adventure she’d dreamt of and the unexpected realities of life on the job. She carved chateaubriand in the first-class cabin and dined in front of the pyramids in Cairo, fended off passengers’ advances and found romance on layovers in London and Lisbon, and walked more than a million miles in high heels. She flew through the start of deregulation, an oil crisis, massive furloughs, and a labor strike.

As the airline industry changed around her, Hood began to write—even drafting snatches of her first novel from the jump-seat. She reveals how the job empowered her, despite its roots in sexist standards. Packed with funny, moving, and shocking stories of life as a flight attendant, Fly Girl captures the nostalgia and magic of air travel at its height, and the thrill that remains with every take-off.

 

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As a fan of Ann Hood’s books, I was eager to read her memoir Fly Girl. Who hasn’t dreamed of a career as a flight attendant?

Ann describes her journey from training, with all the challenging restrictions and rules, to actually flying the skies, and shares interesting stories about travelers she meets along the way. And sad tales of tragedies that happen on the travels.

Her long term goal to be a writer plays into her travels, too, as she describes characters she meets on the trips, and dialogues that help her become adept at writing her stories and books later.

The ups and downs of a flight attendant’s career were challenging, but she did enjoy the people she met and the places she visited. And she lived in places that she loved, like San Francisco and New York’s Greenwich Village.

After reading this book, I was eager to reread some of her novels. This book earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: TAKE YOUR BREATH AWAY, BY LINWOOD BARCLAY

One weekend, while Andrew Mason was on a fishing trip, his wife, Brie, vanished without a trace. Most everyone assumed Andy had got away with murder—it’s always the husband, isn’t it?—but the police could never build a strong case against him. For a while, Andy hit rock bottom—he drank too much to numb the pain, was abandoned by all his friends save one, nearly lost his business, and became a pariah in the place he once called home.

Now, six years later, Andy has finally put his life back together. He sold the house he once shared with Brie and moved away. To tell the truth, he wasn’t sad to hear that the old place was razed and a new house built on the site. He’s settled down with a new partner, Jayne, and life is good.

But Andy’s peaceful world is about to shatter. One day, a woman shows up at his old address, screaming, “Where’s my house? What’s happened to my house?” And then, just as suddenly as she appeared, the woman—who bears a striking resemblance to Brie—is gone. The police are notified and old questions—and dark suspicions—resurface.

Could Brie really be alive after all these years? If so, where has she been? It soon becomes clear that Andy’s future and the lives of those closest to him depend on discovering what the hell is going on. The trick will be whether he can stay alive long enough to unearth the answers.

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As we follow the trail of Brie’s disappearance and the sightings of someone who looks like her six years later, we are thrust into a mysterious and convoluted tale that involves almost all the characters who have connections to Andrew and Brie.

There is no way that the events are coincidental, so obviously someone has gone to a lot of trouble to manufacture what we are seeing now.

I knew that someone unexpected would turn out to be the one who had hired Brie’s killer, and someone equally surprising had also brought in the look-a-like person. But we are not sure who those individuals would turn out to be until the very end of Take My Breath Away. Another brilliant 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: THE ROAD TRIP, BY BETH O’LEARY

Four years ago, Dylan and Addie fell in love under the Provence sun. Wealthy Oxford student Dylan was staying at his friend Cherry’s enormous French villa; wild child Addie was spending her summer as the on-site caretaker. Two years ago, their relationship officially ended. They haven’t spoken since.

Today, Dylan’s and Addie’s lives collide again. It’s the day before Cherry’s wedding, and Addie and Dylan crash cars at the start of the journey there. The car Dylan was driving is wrecked, and the wedding is in rural Scotland—he’ll never get there on time by public transport.

So, along with Dylan’s best friend, Addie’s sister, and a random guy on Facebook who needed a ride, they squeeze into a space-challenged Mini and set off across Britain. Cramped into the same space, Dylan and Addie are forced to confront the choices they made that tore them apart—and ask themselves whether that final decision was the right one after all.
 
 
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The Road Trip is a journey toward a wedding, but it turns out to be much more. The characters are each dealing with issues, some of them with others traveling along to that wedding, so we follow them from the past to the present. We learn about past behavior and how the present is finally allowing for some changes.

I really rooted for Dylan and Addie, especially since one character was constantly trying to break them apart. I really hated that character, and even though he seemed to be making changes, eventually, I never really warmed up to him.

One of the other characters was hilarious in his attempt to crash the wedding, taking drastic steps to accomplish his goal.

A delightful journey overall, earning the book 5 stars.
 
***

REVIEW: THE ACCOMPLICE, BY LISA LUTZ

Owen Mann is charming, privileged, and chronically dissatisfied. Luna Grey is secretive, cautious, and pragmatic. Despite their differences, they form a bond the moment they meet in college. Their names soon become indivisible—Owen and Luna, Luna and Owen—and stay that way even after an unexplained death rocks their social circle.

They’re still best friends years later, when Luna finds Owen’s wife brutally murdered. The police investigation sheds light on some long-hidden secrets, but it can’t penetrate the wall of mystery that surrounds Owen. To get to the heart of what happened and why, Luna has to dig up the one secret she’s spent her whole life burying.

The Accomplice brilliantly examines the bonds of shared history, what it costs to break them, and what happens when you start wondering how well you know the one person who truly knows you.

 

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Our story takes us back and forth in time, exploring the connections between friends Owen and Luna, and slowly digging up the secrets that bind them. Meanwhile, people keep dying around them, and when the suspicions grow, I began to doubt them.

Eventually they doubt each other. But as we peel back the layers, we finally see which characters are tearing away at the fabric that has kept them together.

The Accomplice had me rapidly turning pages, and my only quibbles with the story were how the time travel was sometimes confusing. Eventually, as we reach the end, I had a blissful feeling of knowing. 4.5 stars.

***