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.

***
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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.

***

REVIEW: DON’T WAKE UP, BY LIZ LAWLER

 

When Dr. Alex Taylor opens her eyes, she is hooked up to an IV, is bound to an operating table, and her legs are raised in stirrups. Disoriented and alarmed, she assumes she’s been anesthetized and brought to surgery after being in an accident. But the man standing over her, with his face hidden behind a surgical mask and wielding instruments, is no doctor she recognizes at the hospi-tal where she works as a successful and respected doctor. He’s a stranger—and he’s calmly and methodically telling her how he’s about to attack her. Before Alex can even scream for help, she succumbs to another dose of anesthesia, rendering her unable to defend herself….

When she comes to on a gurney, she finds herself surrounded by her colleagues and immediately reports the attack and rape. The police are skeptical of her bizarre story. And after a physical ex-am reveals no proof of any attack, even her boyfriend has doubts. Despite Alex’s adamant claims, no one believes her, leaving her to wonder if she has, in fact, lost her mind.

Until she meets the next victim…

My Thoughts: A gripping tale that kept me glued to the pages, Don’t Wake Up takes the reader through the horrendous experiences of Dr. Alex Taylor’s life, watching her career and her personal life unravel.

Not being believed by anyone, not even those who were friends and colleagues, had to be the worst thing for Alex. Even her boyfriend is skeptical. One of the police officers, Greg Turner, seems to be more sympathetic, but his coworker, Laura Best, pushes ahead, determined to ruin the doctor’s life, coming up with reasons to show her in the worst possible light.

Only Seb Morrisey, an old and loyal friend, truly believes her. And then Dr. Maggie Fielding seems empathetic and offers to help.

But what will ultimately happen to turn all sympathy away from Alex once again? How will Alex finally convince her once-friends and colleagues to her side of the story? Or will the truth be as worrisome as the strange events?

As I kept turning the pages, following the intense happenings, I finally guessed who was behind it all…and not a moment too soon. A breathless thriller that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE AFFLICTION, BY BETH GUTCHEON

 

Since retiring as head of a famous New York City private school, Maggie Detweiler is busier than ever. Chairing a team to evaluate the faltering Rye Manor School for girls, she will determine whether, in spite of its fabled past, the school has a future at all. With so much on the line for so many, tensions on campus are at an excruciating pitch, and Maggie expects to be as welcome as a case of Ebola virus.

At a reception for the faculty and trustees to “welcome” Maggie’s team, no one seems more keen for all to go well than Florence Meagher, a star teacher who is loved and respected in spite of her affliction—that she can never stop talking.

Florence is one of those dedicated teachers for whom the school is her life, and yet the next morning, when Maggie arrives to observe her teaching, Florence is missing. Florence’s husband, Ray, an auxiliary policeman in the village, seems more annoyed than alarmed at her disappearance. But Florence’s sister is distraught. There have been tensions in the marriage, and at their last visit, Florence had warned, “If anything happens to me, don’t assume it’s an accident.”

Two days later, Florence’s body is found in the campus swimming pool.

Maggie is asked to stay on to coach the very young and inexperienced head of Rye Manor through the crisis. Maggie obviously knows schools, but she also knows something about investigating murder, having solved a mysterious death in Maine the previous year when the police went after the wrong suspect. She is soon joined by her madcap socialite friend Hope, who is jonesing for an excuse to ditch her book club anyway, before she has to actually read Silas Marner.

My Thoughts: When I see a book authored by Beth Gutcheon, I am all in. I wasn’t sure about the boarding school aspect of The Affliction, but the great characters and the wonderful writing kept me turning the pages. Soon I was lost in the story and the discoveries along the way.

The sheer number of possible suspects kept me guessing, but by the time I had settled on the who and the why of the most likely suspect’s actions, I was lost in the fascination of the various routes that Maggie and Hope took to try to find some proof. The police were quite diligent, too, which is always a good thing in small town crime. But a suspect connected to important people cannot be hauled in on circumstantial evidence. By the end, all seemed hopeless. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, an astonishing series of actions taken by an unexpected individual turned everything into a certain kind of justice. 5 stars

***

REVIEW: I’VE GOT MY EYES ON YOU, BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK

 

When a terrible crime shocks a New Jersey community, all signs point to one suspect. But if he’s innocent as he claims, it means the murderer is still out there…

After throwing a party when her parents were away, 18-year-old Kerry Dowling is discovered lifeless at the bottom of the family pool. The police immediately question Kerry’s boyfriend, who—despite proclaiming his love for her—was seen arguing with Kerry that night. As neighbors and classmates grieve the loss of their friend, Kerry’s 28-year-old sister Aline, a guidance counselor, searches for answers. She’ll do anything to help the Detective Mike Wilson learn what really happened the night Kerry was killed.

Was someone watching Kerry the night of the murder? For Aline, the truth could be deadly.

My Thoughts: I’ve Got My Eyes on You grabbed me from the opening lines and held onto my interest throughout. I loved the short chapters and fast pace. A murder in a backyard, the search for the perpetrator, and a growing number of suspects kept me guessing.

The characters intrigued me, as I wondered which of them would turn out to be the killer.

Aline, the sister of Kerry Dowling, had just started a new job as a guidance counselor at the high school, so she worked with the students to find out more about Kerry’s life, vigorously following clues. She also found herself drawn to Mike Wilson, the primary detective, and he listened to her ideas and suggestions.

Scott Kimball, a lacrosse coach who had connections to the kids, seemed friendly and helpful. But then Aline began to resent how he seemed to be so pushy and overly attentive. She turned away from him in favor of Mike.

I liked how the case grew more complex over time, and I started having suspicions about one or two of the characters. How would the pursuit of answers place Aline and the high school girls in danger?

An engaging story that kept me racing to find answers while relaxing into the story. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: UNDER MY SKIN, BY LISA UNGER

 

What if the nightmares are actually memories?

It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?

The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts—there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she’s unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?

My Thoughts: Poppy’s first person narrative takes us up and down and around the bend, as she struggles with the aftermath of her husband Jack’s murder.

Under My Skin captured my interest, but I often found myself lost between her reality, her dreams, and her drug induced moments. Her friends seemed to be caring and nurturing, but I was soon suspicious of them and their smothering ways. Were they caring or controlling? Were they protective or were they hiding their own dark secrets?

Because it was hard to decipher Poppy’s state of mind, I had to reread sections to grasp what was going on: was she in a disturbed reality, a dream, or was she lost in her memories? Was she being stalked? Was a hooded man following her?

I especially disliked Layla, Poppy’s long time best friend, who seemed so bossy and controlling. And one of Jack’s old friends, Alvaro, was dark and brooding, and set off red flags for me. But what we discover before the end of the tale was how little we knew about any of them.

Set in Manhattan, the story also takes us to The Hollows, a spooky small town that shows up in other books by the author. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: DAY OF THE DEAD, BY NICCI FRENCH

A decade ago, psychologist Frieda Klein was sucked into the orbit of Dean Reeve—a killer able to impersonate almost anyone, a man who can disappear without a trace, a psychopath obsessed with Frieda herself.

In the years since, Frieda has worked with—and sometimes against—the London police in solving their most baffling cases. But now she’s in hiding, driven to isolation by Reeve. When a series of murders announces his return, Frieda must emerge from the shadows to confront her nemesis. And it’s a showdown she might not survive.

This gripping cat-and-mouse thriller pits one of the most fascinating characters in contemporary fiction against an enemy like none other. Smart, sophisticated, and spellbinding, it’s a novel to leave you breathless.

 

My Thoughts: In this final episode with Frieda Klein, we do not connect with her at first. We see some murders, strangely linked, and meet some detectives who are trying to solve the cases. When Lola, a young woman fascinated with Frieda Klein shows up on the scene, we know that Frieda is sure to appear.

When she does, we almost don’t recognize her. Disguises and hiding places characterize everything about Day of the Dead, as Frieda has hunkered down for a final confrontation with Dean Reeve. He makes brief appearances throughout the story, but none of the detectives, not even Frieda, are able to get close enough to capture him…or even interact with him. Sometimes the story slogged along for me, as I hoped for a brilliant conclusion.

What will happen in the final moments, as Frieda sets her plan in motion, a secretive plan that she must carry out alone? Intensely suspenseful, the story kept me turning pages, even as I could feel a lump in my throat at the idea of what would happen next. And behind the scenes, Lola has carried out her own secret plan. What are her motives, and why is she taking these steps? We sense an ending as we journey along the rivers and canals, as memories of a series of deaths along the way bring us to the climactic moments. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: RASPBERRY DANISH MURDER, BY JOANNE FLUKE

 

Hannah has felt as bitter as November in Minnesota since Ross vanished without a trace and left their marriage in limbo. Still, she throws herself into a baking frenzy for the sake of pumpkin pie and Thanksgiving-themed treats while endless holiday orders pour into The Cookie Jar. Hannah even introduces a raspberry Danish pastry to the menu, and P.K., her husband’s assistant at KCOW-TV, will be one of the first to sample it. But instead of taking a bite, P.K., who is driving Ross’s car and using his desk at work, is murdered. Was someone plotting against P.K. all along or did Ross dodge a deadly dose of sweet revenge? Hannah will have to quickly sift through a cornucopia of clues and suspects to stop a killer from bringing another murder to the table . . .

 

My Thoughts: Raspberry Danish Murder is my first book in the Hannah Swensen series, but I’ve loved following her on the Hallmark Channel with the Mysteries and Murders show.

Set in Lake Eden, Minnesota, the story sweeps us up into the cold season, with a frenzy of holiday activities at The Cookie Jar. But this year is not like any other, since Hannah’s new husband Ross has gone missing.

Did he leave on assignment? Will he be coming back soon, or is he gone for good?

In the midst of the worry and anxiety, Hannah is caught up in the murder mystery of P.K., her husband’s assistant at the TV station, and it is fun to watch how she follows the clues.

Following each intense chapter are a series of cookie recipes, sure to please the bakers among us.

In the midst of these activities, we are also introduced to Hannah’s cat Moishe, who feels like another character in the book.

Red herrings kept me intrigued, and then, just when we finally discovered who had killed P.K., we were hit with the stunning news of what had happened to Ross. An enjoyable read with characters that felt like friends. 4 stars.***