REVIEW: THE PERFECT GUESTS, BY EMMA ROUS

 

1988. Beth Soames is fourteen years old when her aunt takes her to stay at Raven Hall, a rambling manor in the isolated East Anglian fens. The Averells, the family who lives there, are warm and welcoming, and Beth becomes fast friends with their daughter, Nina. At times, Beth even feels like she’s truly part of the family…until they ask her to help them with a harmless game—and nothing is ever the same.

2019. Sadie Langton is an actress struggling to make ends meet when she lands a well-paying gig to pretend to be a guest at a weekend party. She is sent a suitcase of clothing, a dossier outlining the role she is to play, and instructions. It’s strange, but she needs the money, and when she sees the stunning manor she’ll be staying at, she figures she’s got nothing to lose.

In person, Raven Hall is even grander than she’d imagined—even with damage from a fire decades before—but the walls seem to have eyes. As day turns to night, Sadie starts to feel that there’s something off about the glamorous guests who arrive, and as the party begins, it becomes chillingly apparent their unseen host is playing games with everyone…including her.

 

Alternating narrators take us through The Perfect Guests, from the eighties to the present, with one family and one rambling manor as the centerpiece for the tale.

In the beginning, we meet Beth in 1988, as she is brought to Raven Hall by her Aunt Caroline. She is to stay with the Averell family until her aunt can care for her. Another child, Nina, is the same age, and the two become friends.

As events transpire, we soon realize that a very strange game is unfolding.

Fast forward to 2019, we meet Sadie, Beth’s daughter, as she is invited to Raven Hall to play a part. As a wannabe actress, she is eager to discover what might happen next.

But neither Sadie nor Beth know about the intricate connections between the family members, and how or why they have all been forced into what appears to be a mysterious parlor game.

How are the characters connected to one another, and what deep dark secrets are at the root of the games they play?

Who is trying to keep the secrets at bay, and why?

I was intrigued by them all and kept puzzling things out until the very end. The book earned 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: RACHEL TO THE RESCUE, BY ELINOR LIPMAN

Rachel Klein is sacked from her job at the White House after she sends an email criticizing Donald Trump. As she is escorted off the premises, she is hit by a speeding car, driven by what the press will discreetly call “a personal friend of the President.” Does that explain the flowers, the get-well wishes at a press briefing, the hush money offered by a lawyer at her hospital bedside? Rachel’s recovery is soothed by comically doting parents, matchmaking roommates, a new job as aide to a journalist whose books aim to defame the President, and unexpected love at the local wine store. But secrets leak, and Rachel’s new-found happiness has to make room for more than a little chaos. Will she bring down the President? Or will he manage to do that all by himself? Rachel to the Rescue is a mischievous political satire, with a delightful cast of characters, from one of America’s funniest novelists.
 
 
 
 

I could not stop smiling throughout Rachel to the Rescue, as her tongue in cheek dialogue with friends and family added to each scenario we experienced in this delightful book.

I also loved following the close-to-real-life politics and the dynamics of Rachel’s family, as she picked herself up from the accidental moments and moved on.

In the end, we see how closely events match reality, as the characters find themselves in a Pandemic that could overturn their lives. Instead they kept moving forward, much as we are doing in our real lives. 4.5 stars.

 
***
 

REVIEW: THE WRONG FAMILY, BY TARRYN FISHER

 

 

Another twisted psychological thriller guaranteed to turn your world upside down. Have you ever been wrong about someone? Juno was wrong about Winnie Crouch. Before moving in with the Crouch family, Juno thought Winnie and her husband, Nigel, had the perfect marriage, the perfect son—the perfect life. Only now that she’s living in their beautiful house, she sees the cracks in the crumbling facade are too deep to ignore. Still, she isn’t one to judge. After her grim diagnosis, the retired therapist simply wants a place to live out the rest of her days in peace. But that peace is shattered the day Juno overhears a chilling conversation between Winnie and Nigel… She shouldn’t get involved. She really shouldn’t. But this could be her chance to make a few things right. Because if you thought Juno didn’t have a secret of her own, then you were wrong about her, too. From the wickedly dark mind of bestselling author Tarryn Fisher, The Wrong Family is a taut new thriller that’s riddled with twists in all the right places.
 
 
 
 

As we enter the world of Winnie and Nigel Crouch from the perspective of Juno, we are not sure what is going on. How is Juno able to insert herself into the deepest secrets of their lives without ever actually interacting with them? I was confused for a while, and then we slowly come to realize what is happening.

The Wrong Family is definitely not what it appears to be, and neither is the story. By the end, I was holding my breath, waiting to see what would happen next. An unforgettable story. 4.5 stars.

 
***
 

REVIEW: CRUEL WINTER, BY SHEILA CONNOLLY

Snow is a rarity in Maura Donovan’s small village in County Cork, Ireland, so she wasn’t sure what to expect when a major snowstorm rolled in around Sullivan’s pub. But now she’s stranded in a bar full of patrons—and a suspected killer in a long-ago murder.

 

Maura’s been in Ireland less than a year and hasn’t heard about the decades-old unsolved crime that took place nearby, let alone the infamous suspect, Diane Caldwell. But the locals have, and they’re not happy to be trapped with her. Diane, meanwhile, seeks to set the record straight, asserting her innocence after all this time. And since no one is going anywhere in the storm, Maura encourages Diane to share her side of the story, which she’d never had a chance to do in court.

Over the next few hours, the informal court in Sullivan’s reviews the facts and theories about the case—and comes to some surprising conclusions. But is it enough to convince the police to take a new look at an old case? A clever spin on the classic locked room mystery, Cruel Winter, the fifth in New York Times bestselling author Sheila Connolly’s series, will delight fans of the Emerald Isle.

 
 
 

Maura’s pub is the centerpiece of this unexpected lockdown during a rare storm. A woman who has appeared unexpectedly is the focus of all eyes as the villagers ask their questions and probe the events that took place twenty years before.

Maura has her hands full keeping her guests fed and warm during the Cruel Winter hours, and we gradually find out more about the past, while also dealing with the hostilities and quirks of the present. We get another glimpse of the residents of Leap as the morning arrives.

I liked observing the interactions of the characters and learning how adept Maura has become in leading her group. During each of the books in the series, we find out more about Maura, the villagers, and how things work in the Irish setting. A delightful journey that earned 4.5 stars.

 
***

REVIEW: FINDING MRS. FORD, BY DEBORAH GOODRICH ROYCE

Mrs. Ford leads a privileged life. From her Blenheim spaniels to her cottage on the coast of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, she carefully curates her world. Hair in place, house in place, life in place, Susan Ford keeps it under control.

Early one morning in the summer of 2014, the past pays a call to collect. The FBI arrives to question her about a man from Iraq—a Chaldean Christian from Mosul—where ISIS has just seized control. Sammy Fakhouri, they say, is his name and they have taken him into custody, picked up on his way to her house.

Back in the summer of 1979, on the outskirts of a declining Detroit, college coed Susan meets charismatic and reckless Annie. They are an unlikely pair of friends but they each see something in the other—something they’d like to possess. Studious Susan is a moth to the flame that is Annie. Yet, it is dazzling Annie who senses that Susan will be the one who makes it out of Detroit.

Together, the girls navigate the minefields of a down-market disco where they work their summer jobs. It’s a world filled with pretty girls and powerful men, some of whom—like Sammy Fakhouri—happen to be Iraqi Chaldeans.

What happened in that summer of 1979 when Susan and Annie met? Why is Sammy looking for Susan all these years later? And why is Mrs. Ford lying?

 
 
 
 

Flipping back and forth in time, and narrated by two separate characters, Finding Mrs. Ford kept my interest…for the most part. But the pace was slow and the characters were often glib and even unlikable.

I had to keep reading, however, because I wanted to know what would happen. I began to suspect the eventual twist, but why it took the turn it did puzzled me. Also, the connection between the young women and the Iraqi characters could have been more understandable if their motives had been clear. Instead the men seemed to be criminals and drug addicts typical of their circumstances and the times in which they lived. I kept waiting for something that would make me care about any of them. But that did not happen.

The book was interesting enough, but I wasn’t invested in what happened to any of them. Therefore, this book earned 3.5 stars from me.

 
***

REVIEW: THE SILENT WIFE, BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

 

 

Investigating the killing of a prisoner during a riot inside a state penitentiary, GBI investigator Will Trent is confronted with disturbing information. One of the inmates claims that he is innocent of a brutal attack for which he has always been the prime suspect. The man insists that he was framed by a corrupt law enforcement team led by Jeffrey Tolliver and that the real culprit is still out there—a serial killer who has systematically been preying on women across the state for years. If Will reopens the investigation and implicates the dead police officer with a hero’s reputation of wrongdoing, the opportunistic convict is willing to provide the information GBI needs about the riot murder.

Only days ago, another young woman was viciously murdered in a state park in northern Georgia. Is it a fluke, or could there be a serial killer on the loose?

As Will Trent digs into both crimes it becomes clear that he must solve the cold case in order to find the answer. Yet nearly a decade has passed—time for memories to fade, witnesses to vanish, evidence to disappear, and lies to become truth. But Will can’t crack either mystery without the help of the one person he doesn’t want involved: his girlfriend and Jeffrey Tolliver’s widow, medical examiner Sara Linton.

When the past and present begin to collide, Will realizes that everything he values is at stake . . .
 
 
 
 
 


In The Silent Wife, Will Trent returns to the series, and is reeled into the case of a possible serial killer, along with the possibility of a corrupt law enforcement official.

Sara Linton, Will’s girlfriend, is the widow of the police chief that was involved in the case from eight years ago.

Our story flips between the past and the present, spotlighting the officers involved in each case, as well as the new victims in the present.

Similarities between the cold cases and the present seem to be connected by some very intriguing items lost or stolen from the victims.

I liked the character of Will, and the connection between him and Sara felt real, as they had their issues. As the story takes us between the time periods, we see how the two of them struggle to connect when they are having disagreements.

One of the characters, another police detective, was very unlikable. Lena is someone who cuts corners and seems quite unethical in her approach. I was hoping she would be disciplined, but that didn’t happen in this book.

An enjoyable read that kept me guessing until the end…and I was surprised by the reveal.. 4.5 stars
 

***

REVIEW: THE LOST FOR WORDS BOOKSHOP, BY STEPHANIE BUTLAND

 

Loveday Cardew prefers books to people. If you look carefully, you might glimpse the first lines of the novels she loves most tattooed on her skin. But there are some things Loveday will never, ever show you.

Into her hiding place – the bookstore where she works – come a poet, a lover, and three suspicious deliveries.

Someone has found out about her mysterious past. Will Loveday survive her own heartbreaking secrets?

 
 
 
 

The Lost for Words Bookshop opens to reveal a young, socially awkward woman trying to hide from her past and her pain, burying herself in books. Working in a second-hand bookshop sounds like the perfect place for her.

Her boss, Archie, is so much more, having found her and nurtured her by hiring her and mentoring her. Like a guardian angel, he has surrounded her with support and comfort. He has also kept some secrets from her, most of which she will discover just when she needs to know them.

Other characters surround her, some good and some not so good. Having survived a family broken by violence, she is careful with her heart. But somehow bad characters find a way to pierce her armor. And then they do their worst.

The story started slowly, gradually filling us in on her daily routines and activities. Then, as more and more secrets are revealed to us, we see the danger that is approaching…and I held my breath until the final denouement. In the end, I had some hope for her. 4.5 stars.

 
***

REVIEW: THE LIBRARY OF LOST & FOUND, BY PHAEDRA PATRICK


Librarian Martha Storm has always found it easier to connect with books than people—though not for lack of trying. She keeps careful lists of how to help others in her superhero-themed notebook. And yet, sometimes it feels like she’s invisible.

All of that changes when a book of fairy tales arrives on her doorstep. Inside, Martha finds a dedication written to her by her best friend—her grandmother Zelda—who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier. When Martha discovers a clue within the book that her grandmother may still be alive, she becomes determined to discover the truth. As she delves deeper into Zelda’s past, she unwittingly reveals a family secret that will change her life forever.

From the beginning of The Library of Lost and Found, we are brought into the inner world of Martha Storm as she finds herself immersed in numerous tasks for others. Keeping busy seems to be her way of doing good, and perhaps it is a way to fill in the gaps in her family life. She has no husband or lover, although we do learn about a former fiance she planned to marry years before, but whom she lost when she chose taking care of her parents over going to the states with him. Did her self-sacrifice stem from some missing pieces in her family life? Did her call to duty develop due to her losses?

Grandmother Zelda played a huge role in Martha’s life, whereas her father’s voice in her head scolding her for various actions appeared to drive her choices when she no longer had her grandmother assisting her. Zelda’s mysterious “death” was definitely a turning point for her.

But then something happens in the present in the form of a mysterious book, and suddenly everything begins to change. I liked how Martha seemed to grow a spine and stand up for herself, and I especially wanted her to do so when it came to her sister, who constantly abused Martha’s need to help.

This book kept me rapidly turning pages because I enjoyed watching Martha grow and change, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen to her next. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, BY MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

 

Criminal psychologist Cyrus Haven and Evie Cormac return in this mesmerizing new thriller from internationally bestselling author Michael Robotham, a writer Stephen King calls “an absolute master…with heart and soul.”

Who is Evie, the girl with no past, running from? She was discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Her ability to tell when someone is lying helped Cyrus crack an impenetrable case in Good Girl, Bad Girl. Now, the closer Cyrus gets to uncovering answers about Evie’s dark history, the more he exposes Evie to danger, giving her no choice but to run. Ultimately, both will have to decide if some secrets are better left buried and some monsters should never be named…


Alternating narrators tell the story in When She Was Good. From Cyrus, to Evie, the story unfolds. Another player shows herself along the way in the form of Sacha, the young woman who had found Evie hiding out in a closet.

A child with a dark past and no current connections to those who could fill in the blanks, little Evie is almost grown and still hiding from the truth about her past.

Who is still searching for her and trying to do her harm? Can Cyrus protect her by helping her hide the truth, or must he finally discover the answers?

A fascinating tale that was slow in revealing itself, the intensity builds toward the end. 4.0 stars.

***

REVIEW: UNFOLLOW ME, BY CHARLOTTE DUCKWORTH

You can’t stop watching her.

Violet Young is a hugely popular journalist-turned-mummy-influencer, with three children, a successful husband and a million subscribers on YouTube who tune in daily to watch her everyday life unfold.

Until the day she’s no longer there.

But one day she disappears from the online world—her entire social media presence deleted overnight, with no explanation. Has she simply decided that baring her life to all online is no longer a good idea, or has something more sinister happened to Violet?

But do you really know who Violet is?

Her fans are obsessed with finding out the truth, but their search quickly reveals a web of lies, betrayal, and shocking consequences…


What is the pull that online fans have to Violet, a mummy influencer who is someone to envy? Do they really adore her, or are they just hoping she will fall on her face?

Initially, we meet a couple of fans: Yvonne and Lily. They each have their individual stories. One seems to be a true fan, but the other could be out to get Violet.

Alternating narratives lead us through the story and the pitfalls they each have stumbled over. Who has the most to gain by Violet’s destruction?

Something dark has happened to explain why Violet has disappeared, and as we peek into the world of fans Yvonne and Lily, we finally understand their motivations.

As Unfollow Me finally concludes, with many secrets revealed, each of the women we have followed along the way has faced major changes that scare them away from the world of online stalking. Will they redeem themselves,or just turn the page to a slightly different venue? 4.5 stars.

***