REVIEW: EVERY LAST FEAR, BY ALEX FINLAY

“They found the bodies on a Tuesday.” So begins this twisty and breathtaking novel that traces the fate of the Pine family, a thriller that will both leave you on the edge of your seat and move you to tears.

After a late night of partying, NYU student Matt Pine returns to his dorm room to devastating news: nearly his entire family—his mom, his dad, his little brother and sister—have been found dead from an apparent gas leak while vacationing in Mexico. The local police claim it was an accident, but the FBI and State Department seem far less certain—and they won’t tell Matt why.

The tragedy makes headlines everywhere because this isn’t the first time the Pine family has been thrust into the media spotlight. Matt’s older brother, Danny—currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his teenage girlfriend Charlotte—was the subject of a viral true crime documentary suggesting that Danny was wrongfully convicted. Though the country has rallied behind Danny, Matt holds a secret about his brother that he’s never told anyone: the night Charlotte was killed Matt saw something that makes him believe his brother is guilty of the crime.

When Matt returns to his small hometown to bury his parents and siblings, he’s faced with a hostile community that was villainized by the documentary, a frenzied media, and memories he’d hoped to leave behind forever. Now, as the deaths in Mexico appear increasingly suspicious and connected to Danny’s case, Matt must unearth the truth behind the crime that sent his brother to prison—putting his own life in peril—and forcing him to confront his every last fear.

Told through multiple points-of-view and alternating between past and present, Alex Finlay’s Every Last Fear is not only a page-turning thriller, it’s also a poignant story about a family managing heartbreak and tragedy, and living through a fame they never wanted.

 

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As we follow the characters in Every Last Fear, we are swept up into the past and thrust forward into the current situation involving the Pine family.

I enjoyed some of the characters more than others, but I didn’t really like how the story lagged at times, making me wonder what was really going on.

A story that earned 3.5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: THE PERFECT DAUGHTER, BY D. J. PALMER

Penny Francone, age sixteen, is a murderer. Her guilt is beyond doubt: she was found alone in the victim’s apartment, covered in blood, holding the murder weapon. The victim’s identity and her secret relationship to Penny give Penny the perfect motive, sealing the deal. All the jury needs to decide now is where Penny will serve out her sentence. Will she be found not guilty by reason of insanity, as her lawyer intends to argue? Or will she get a life sentence in a maximum-security prison?

Already reeling from tragedy after the sudden passing of her beloved husband a few years before, now Grace is on her knees, grateful that Massachusetts doesn’t allow the death penalty.

As Penny awaits trial in a state mental hospital, she is treated by Dr. Mitchell McHugh, a psychiatrist battling demons of his own. Grace’s determination to understand the why behind her daughter’s terrible crime fuels Mitch’s resolve to help the Francone family. Together, they set out in search of the truth about Penny, but discover instead a shocking hidden history of secrets, lies, and betrayals that threatens to consume them all.

The perfect daughter. Is she fooling them all?

 

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Alternating narrators tell us the current and backstory in The Perfect Daughter. I loved that Grace was so determined to find the truth and protect her beloved adopted daughter, Penny, whose alternating personalities might be a key to finding the truth.

Did Penny really have DID, or had she found a way to go back and forth between characters, hiding who she really is?

Even as I read along with all the narrators, including Dr. McHugh, I wasn’t even sure what we would discover.

The fact that DID had fallen into some disrepute by doctors and psychiatrists, there were others who still believed in the possibilities.

Digging into the past of Rachel Boyd, Penny’s birth mother, might yield some answers. But just when we thought we had the answers, an unexpected turn brought everything we needed. 4.5 stars.

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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: THE SEA OF LOST GIRLS, BY CAROL GOODMAN

Tess has worked hard to keep her past buried, where it belongs. Now she’s the wife to a respected professor at an elite boarding school, where she also teaches. Her seventeen-year-old son, Rudy, whose dark moods and complicated behavior she’s long worried about, seems to be thriving: he has a lead role in the school play and a smart and ambitious girlfriend. Tess tries not to think about the mistakes she made eighteen years ago, and mostly, she succeeds.

And then one more morning she gets a text at 2:50 AM: it’s Rudy, asking for help. When Tess picks him up she finds him drenched and shivering, with a dark stain on his sweatshirt. Four hours later, Tess gets a phone call from the Haywood school headmistress: Lila Zeller, Rudy’s girlfriend, has been found dead on the beach, not far from where Tess found Rudy just hours before.

As the investigation into Lila’s death escalates, Tess finds her family attacked on all sides. What first seemed like a tragic accidental death is turning into something far more sinister, and not only is Tess’s son a suspect but her husband is a person of interest too. But Lila’s death isn’t the first blemish on Haywood’s record, and the more Tess learns about Haywood’s fabled history, the more she realizes that not all skeletons will stay safely locked in the closet.

For most of Tess’s life, she has been trying to bury the past and her dark secrets. Throughout The Sea of Lost Girls, our narrator Tess has many fears and reasons to try to hide everything she has lived through. Some might point out that she could have prevented a lot of her own pain if she had come forward to share about how she had been abused and assaulted by someone who should have been a protector, but old habits die hard. And when women fear that others will not believe them, they often hunker down and hide everything even more.

The story takes us to the distant past and how the school where Tess and her husband teach has its own reasons to bury the past, but once Tess realizes how deep the secrets go and how much danger is coming at her, she begins to come forward with the truth.

Will she be able to protect her son? Can her husband be protected? Or will she find out that she is covering for the wrong people?

An intense tale that kept me guessing, not sure who had killed Lila or what had happened to all the lost girls. Just when I thought I knew the answers, another surprise would come around the bend. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS, BY PETER SWANSON

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.

To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects . . . and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.


Malcom Kershaw is the first person narrator of Eight Perfect Murders, and as we follow his thought processes and his internal monologue, we are part of his journey through the list he created. The one that seemingly inspires a killer.But as we go along for the ride, we learn a lot more just by the connections between the murders and the list: those connections that Mal draws for the FBI agent Gwen. We soon realize that Mal is not necessarily telling the whole truth, but we are too fascinated by it all to care about that.

By the end, Mal fills us in on some missing pieces to the stories…and we are left wondering if we have truly reached the end, or if there might be more to learn. A 5 star read for me.

***

 

REVIEW: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

 

My Thoughts: Alternating narratives reveal the dual timeline stories and keep the reader on the hook as more and more layers are peeled back.

We start with Anna Dale, in the 1940s, and her challenge to finish the mural to be displayed in the Edenton Post Office. Even though she has won the contest fair and square, she is bombarded with prejudice and challenges that soon seemingly overwhelm her…until one fateful night when violence strikes and changes her life forever. Racial prejudice walks hand in hand with the other difficulties she faces.

Flash forward to 2018, when Morgan Christopher is unexpectedly offered the opportunity to early parole from prison in order to take on the task of restoring Anna Dale’s piece, one that is buried beneath grime, not to mention some very strange images that seemingly tell a disturbing tale. Not only is she given an almost impossible task, the deadline must coincide with the gallery opening.

Will Morgan finish the task? What will she uncover beneath the layers of filth and secrets? What will she learn about Anna Dale and the original secrets and lies just waiting to be told?

I loved how Big Lies in a Small Town unfolded, and despite clues, I was blown away by all we learned about that small town and the people who would do anything to hide their secrets. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: SOMEONE WE KNOW, BY SHARI LAPENA

 

“This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much. . . My son broke into your home recently while you were out.”

In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses—and into the owners’ computers as well—learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too.
Who is he, and what might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received, whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they’re telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets?

In this neighborhood, it’s not just the husbands and wives who play games. Here, everyone in the family has something to hide . . .

You never really know what people are capable of.

My Thoughts: When a woman is murdered in a quiet neighborhood in upstate New York, a chain of events is unleashed, moving across the streets and sweeping up the neighbors surrounding the crime victim, turning their lives on end.

A teenage boy and his strange nighttime activities are revealed, another teen turns to alcohol to deal with an unknown stress, and each of the wives look with suspicion at their husbands as they are all called in for questioning and are under scrutiny for a time.

How would the detectives sort out the truth from the lies? When everyone seems to have a motive, how will they finally catch the killer? The obvious perpetrator seems to be the husband, who is behaving very strangely. But then all of the other men have things to hide, too. A stunning reveal kept me intrigued with Someone We Know until the very end. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE BETTER SISTER, BY ALAFAIR BURKE

 

Though Chloe was the younger of the two Taylor sisters, she always seemed to be the one in charge. She was the honor roll student with big dreams and an even bigger work ethic. Nicky—always restless and more than a little reckless—was the opposite of her ambitious little sister. She floated from job to job and man to man and stayed close to home in Cleveland.

For a while, it seemed that both sisters had found happiness. Chloe earned a scholarship to an Ivy League school and moved to New York City, where she landed a coveted publishing job. Nicky married promising young attorney Adam Macintosh and gave birth to a baby boy they named Ethan. The Taylor sisters became virtual strangers.

Now, more than fifteen years later, their lives are drastically different—and Chloe is married to Adam. When he’s murdered by an intruder at the couple’s East Hampton beach house, Chloe reluctantly allows her teenage stepson’s biological mother—her estranged sister, Nicky—back into her life. But when the police begin to treat Ethan as a suspect in his father’s death, the two sisters are forced to unite . . . and to confront the truth behind family secrets they have tried to bury in the past.

 

My Thoughts: I was caught up in the family story of The Better Sister, wondering what secrets would be unveiled after Adam’s murder. Was Ethan guilty, or was some other family member or friend responsible for the murder?
I liked how the author portrayed the court room scenes, and also how we slowly began to see the deceptions that kept the sisters apart, not trusting each other. When the sisters began to come together in their efforts to protect Ethan, we finally learned the hidden truths. A page turner that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THOSE PEOPLE, BY LOUISE CANDLISH

 

Lowland Way is the suburban dream. The houses are beautiful, the neighbors get along, and the kids play together on weekends.

But when Darren and Jodie move into the house on the corner, they donʼt follow the rules. They blast music at all hours, begin an unsightly renovation, and run a used-car business from their yard. It doesn’t take long for an all-out war to start brewing.

Then, early one Saturday, a horrific death shocks the street. As police search for witnesses, accusations start flying—and everyone has something to hide.

My Thoughts: Who hasn’t lived in a neighborhood with annoying people at one time or another? Noise pollution, cars everywhere, and rude attitudes make what was once a lovely suburb a place to abhor.

As each resident tries to fight the encroaching madness, police officers congregate, and strangely enough, do not seem to put a stop to the events.

Those People took the reader down a twisted pathway, and just when you wondered what would happen next, you would be stunned.

While I couldn’t stop reading, wanting to find out what would happen, I did not enjoy these characters and I was happy to put them all behind me. 4 stars.

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

REVIEW: NEVER TELL, BY LISA GARDNER

 

A man is dead, shot three times in his home office. But his computer has been shot twelve times, and when the cops arrive, his pregnant wife is holding the gun.

D.D. Warren arrives on the scene and recognizes the woman–Evie Carter–from a case many years back. Evie’s father was killed in a shooting that was ruled an accident. But for D.D., two coincidental murders is too many.

Flora Dane sees the murder of Conrad Carter on the TV news and immediately knows his face. She remembers a night when she was still a victim–a hostage–and her captor knew this man. Overcome with guilt that she never tracked him down, Flora is now determined to learn the truth of Conrad’s murder.

But D.D. and Flora are about to discover that in this case the truth is a devilishly elusive thing. As layer by layer they peel away the half-truths and outright lies, they wonder: How many secrets can one family have?

My Thoughts: Never Tell offers another look into the world of Flora Dane and D.D. Warren, continuing in the aftermath of Flora’s captivity by Jacob Ness, a horrific monster, and trying to piece together any other connections to perpetrators who are still out there.

How could Conrad Carter be part of Jacob Ness’s world of evil? If Flora recalls meeting him while she was held by Ness, what, if anything, had brought them together? Could Conrad’s death have been a murder committed by someone else in that world?

Evie’s perspective, along with the alternating narrators, help us examine how she might have been involved in Conrad’s death, or at the very least, how she might have been covering up his secrets. D.D., Flora, and FBI Agent Quincy meet to examine the various aspects of the current murder with the hope of finding answers.

As always, I enjoyed the alternating viewpoints that swept between the past and the present, while each character tried to sort through how each event connected so intricately with various crimes in the past. A brilliant 5 star read.

***