REVIEW: JUST THE NICEST COUPLE, BY MARY KUBICA

Two couples, two close friends, one missing husband…

Jake Hayes is missing. This much is certain. At first, his wife, Nina, thinks he is blowing off steam at a friend’s house after their heated fight the night before. But then a day goes by. Two days. Five. And Jake is still nowhere to be found.

Lily Scott, Nina’s friend and coworker, thinks she may have been the last to see Jake before he went missing. After Lily confesses everything to her husband, Christian, the two decide that nobody can find out what happened leading up to Jake’s disappearance, especially not Nina. But Nina is out there looking for her husband, and she won’t stop until the truth is discovered.

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Our story begins with an intensity that continues throughout. Just the Nicest Couple sets us up to follow two couples and their journey through their lives, but instead, we are drawn into what turns out to be a mysterious event that leaves us guessing until the very end.

Jake disappears or is murdered. We don’t know which, nor do we know who did it. We have our suspicions, and we are also offered some red herrings along the way. But just when we have reached what we believe to be a resolution to it all, we are stunned by the twist at the end. Definitely a five star read.

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REVIEW: THE WRONG MOTHER, BY CHARLOTTE DUCKWORTH

Faye is 39 and single. She’s terrified she may never have the one thing she always wanted: a child of her own.

Then she discovers a co-parenting app: Acorns. For men and women who want to have a baby, but don’t want to do it alone. When she meets Louis through it, it feels as though the fates have aligned.

But just one year later, Faye is on the run from Louis, with baby Jake in tow. In desperate need of a new place to live, she contacts Rachel, who’s renting out a room in her remote Norfolk cottage. It’s all Faye can afford – and surely she’ll be safe from Louis there?

But is Rachel the benevolent landlady she pretends to be? Or does she have a secret of her own?

 

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The isolated and vulnerable women who narrated The Wrong Mother had a darkness that kept me intrigued throughout.

We don’t know who to root for, as they all have so much that sets them apart from “normalcy,” and while we can almost hope that they will find what they are looking for in life, we are pretty sure that nothing will end well for them.

But perhaps we will be surprised, as the twisted path takes us to unexpected outcomes. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: THE PERSONAL ASSISTANT, BY KIMBERLY BELLE

When Alex first began posting unscripted family moments and motivational messages online, she had no intention of becoming an influencer. Overnight it seemed she’d amassed a huge following, and her hobby became a full-time job—one that was impossible to manage without her sharp-as-a-tack personal assistant, AC.

But all the good-will of her followers turns toxic when one controversial post goes viral in the worst possible way. Alex reaches out to AC for damage control, but her assistant has gone silent. This young woman Alex trusted with all her secrets, who had access to her personal information and front row seats to the pressure points in her marriage and family life, is now missing and the police are looking to Alex and her husband for answers. As Alex digs into AC’s identity – and a woman is found murdered – she’ll find the greatest threat isn’t online, but in her own living room.

Written in alternating perspectives between Alex, her husband, and the mysterious AC, this juicy cat and mouse story will keep you guessing till the very end.

 

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I was immediately drawn into The Personal Assistant, and captivated as we meet the various characters and are thrust into the intensity of the events.

Alex is desperate to find out who turned her life upside down via a horrendous post, and as we learn more about the various characters, from Alex herself to her personal assistant and even her husband, we are on tenterhooks wondering who did it.

The narrators alternate from the present to the past, but just when we think we have the answers, we are stunned. A brilliant 5 star read.

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REVIEW: THE REWIND, BY ALLISON WINN SCOTCH

Two exes wake up together with wedding bands on their fingers—and no idea how they got there. They have just one New Year’s Eve at the end of 1999 to figure it out in this big-hearted and nostalgic rom-com from New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch.

When college sweethearts Frankie and Ezra broke up before graduation, they vowed to never speak to each other again. Ten years later, on the eve of the new millennium, they find themselves back on their snowy, picturesque New England campus together for the first time for the wedding of mutual friends. Frankie’s on the rise as a music manager for the hottest bands of the late ’90s, and Ezra’s ready to propose to his girlfriend after the wedding. Everything is going to plan—they just have to avoid the chasm of emotions brought up when they inevitably come face to face.

But when they wake up in bed next to each other the following morning with Ezra’s grandmother’s diamond on Frankie’s finger, they have zero memory of how they got there—or about any of the events that transpired the night before. Now Frankie and Ezra have to put aside old grievances in order to figure out what happened, what didn’t happen…and to ask themselves the most troubling question of all: what if they both got it wrong the first time around?

 

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The Rewind takes us back to Y-2K and the start of the New Millennium. Ten years after their relationship ended and their lives go in different directions, Ezra and Frankie are thrown together at the wedding of two old friends.

Did they accidentally get married while drunk and reliving the past? Are they about to renew their lives together in a strange twist of their circumstances?

Most of the story takes us back and forth to the past while trying to understand what has happened in the present. As we follow their journey, we are not sure how it will all unfold, but we’re pretty caught up in rooting for them. An enjoyable romance that takes a new look at how to start over again. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: SHE’S GONE, BY DAVID BELL

When 17-year-old Hunter Gifford wakes in the hospital on the night of homecoming, he’s shocked to learn he and his girlfriend, Chloe Summers, have been in a terrible car accident. Hunter has no memory of the crash, and his shock turns to horror when he is told Chloe’s blood has been found in the car—but she has disappeared.

Back at school, his fellow students taunt him, and his former best friend starts making a true-crime documentary about the case—one that points the finger directly at Hunter. And just when things can’t get any worse, Chloe’s mother stands in front of the entire town at a candlelight vigil and accuses Hunter of murder.

Under mounting pressure from the police, Hunter takes matters into his own hands by questioning anyone who might know the truth and posting videos to prove his innocence. When Hunter learns he and Chloe were seen arguing loudly outside the dance, he faces a sickening possibility. Was he angry enough to kill the person he loved?

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She’s Gone is the story of Hunter and Chloe, and what happened to them at Homecoming and before…before she disappeared. Whatever went on between them was forgotten by Hunter, blocked out, and despite what others believe, he is determined that there are answers and that he isn’t guilty.

We watch as he and some of his friends search for answers, but along the way to finding out the truth, more obstacles appear.

Hunter’s voice is compelling, and no matter what comes up, I am rooting for him. Feeling that there is more to the story.

I liked how we keep following clues, not knowing where they’ll lead, and then, surprisingly, we seem to stumble on the truth. Stunned, but not really that surprised. A 4.5 star read.

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REVIEW: SUCH A PRETTY GIRL, BY T. GREENWOOD

In 1970s New York, her innocence is seductive.
Four decades later, it’s a crime…

Living peacefully in Vermont, Ryan Flannigan is shocked when a text from her oldest friend alerts her to a devastating news item. A controversial photo of her as a preteen has been found in the possession of a wealthy investor recently revealed as a pedophile and a sex trafficker—with an inscription to him from Ryan’s mother on the back.

Memories crowd in, providing their own distinctive pictures of her mother Fiona, an aspiring actress, and their move to the West Village in 1976. Amid the city’s gritty kaleidoscope of wealth and poverty, high art, and sleazy strip clubs, Ryan is discovered and thrust into the spotlight as a promising young actress with a woman’s face and a child’s body. Suddenly, the safety and comfort Ryan longs for is replaced by auditions, paparazzi, and the hungry eyes of men of all ages.

Forced to reexamine her childhood, Ryan begins to untangle her young fears and her mother’s ambitions, and the role each played in the fraught blackout summer of 1977. Even with her movie career long behind her, Ryan and Fiona are suddenly the object of uncomfortable speculation—and Fiona demands Ryan’s support. To put the past to rest, Ryan will need to face the painful truth of their relationship, and the night when everything changed.

 

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At a time before the contemporary movements of the world, a young girl was photographed with her mother’s consent. That photo is now at the center of arrests and controversy, in Such a Pretty Girl.

The story takes us back and forth in time, from the 1970s to the present, and that young girl is now a mother of a teen, struggling to sort out the events of the past.

When the FBI started investigating, Fiona’s narrative was one proclaiming innocence, even insisting that she was protecting her daughter. But was she? Or had she been complicit with the perpetrator?
A story that kept me enthralled throughout, we learn more about how protection and neglect walk hand in hand, and sometimes there is a fine line between them. A 5 star read.

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REVIEW: THE FAVOR, BY NICCI FRENCH

It’s a simple enough favor.

Jude hasn’t seen Liam in years, but when he shows up at her work asking for a favor, she finds she can’t refuse. All Jude has to do is pick Liam up at a country train station—without telling anyone. So what if she has to lie to her fiancé? Jude is still committed to him and their imminent wedding, even if she and Liam were in love once.

She owes him.

After the car crash that changed everything years ago, bright, ambitious Jude went to medical school, back on the path she had planned before meeting moody, artistic Liam. Meanwhile, he never fully recovered from the dark stain the accident left on his record.

Now he’s gone.

When the police show up at the station instead of Liam, Jude realizes that she knows nothing about the man he’s become. Now she’s tangled up in his life, the last person to have seen him, and maybe the only one who can uncover the truth about what went wrong—even if she destroys her own life in the process.
 
 
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When Dr. Jude Winter sees her ex-boyfriend, Liam, from eleven years before, she is stunned. And then when he asks The Favor that seemed like a simple one, she has no idea that her life will be upended. Or that he could end up dead.

Why did she do it? Even as she travels to the little cottage where she will wait for Liam to join her and explain the favor, she wonders why she is doing this.

As chaos follows, and as Jude meets the so-called “family” with whom he had lived, she is desperately trying to get off this course. But everything she tries to do turns out to be wrong.

As the story finally comes to a stunning end, Jude knows that nothing in her life will ever be the same again. But she can start over. Finally. A brilliant 5 star read.
 
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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.

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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.

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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.

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