REVIEW: THE STRANGER BEHIND YOU, BY CAROL GOODMAN

Journalist Joan Lurie has written a seething article exposing a notorious news-paper tycoon as a sexual predator. But the night it goes live, she is brutally attacked. Traumatized and suffering the effects of a concussion, she moves into a highly secure apartment in Manhattan called the Refuge, which was at one time a Magdalen Laundry. Joan should be safe here, so how can she explain the cryptic incidents that are happening?

Lillian Day is Joan’s new 96-year-old neighbor at the Refuge. In 1941, Lillian witnessed a mysterious murder that sent her into hiding at the Magdalen Laundry, and she hasn’t come out since. As she relates to Joan her harrowing story, Joan sees striking similarities to her own past.

Melissa Osgood, newly widowed and revengeful, has burning questions about her husband’s recent death. When she discovers a suspicious paper trail that he left behind, she realizes how little she knew about her marriage. But it seems Joan Lurie might be the one who has the answers.

As these three lives intersect, each woman must stay one step ahead of those who are desperate to make sure the truth is never uncovered.

 

mythoughts-laurelrainsnow-serendipity

Alternating narrators offer up their perspectives in The Stranger Behind You. I found myself liking Joan Lurie more than the others, but each had interesting tales to tell.

When Joan ends up attacked and living in a cloistered apartment where she can feel safe, she soon begins to realize that safety is not necessarily what she finds here.

Melissa’s goals in moving into the same apartment are less about her safety, but more about getting revenge on Joan, who had written about her husband.

The old woman from the 1940s had interesting stories to tell. But who is she really?

As all the characters add to the story, we soon realize how much more there is to tell.

We learn a lot more about all of them, with additions to their stories, and we discover that some were not to be trusted. There was a surreal element that kept me on my toes. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE STRANGER IN THE MIRROR, BY LIV CONSTANTINE

Addison’s about to get married, but she’s not looking forward to the big day. It’s not her fiancé; he’s a wonderful man. It’s because Addison doesn’t know who she really is. A few years ago, a kind driver found her bleeding next to a New Jersey highway and rescued her. While her physical wounds healed, Addison’s memory never returned. She doesn’t know her real name. Or how she ended up injured on the side of a road. Or why she can’t shake the notion that she may have done something very, very bad . . .

In a posh home in the Boston suburbs, Julian tries to figure out what happened to his loving, caring wife, Cassandra, who disappeared without a trace two years ago. She would never have left him and their seven-year-old daughter Valentina of her own free will—or would she?

 

mythoughts-laurelrainsnow-serendipity

 

A story that reveals the fragility of memory, The Stranger in the Mirror offers interesting perspectives for the characters. A woman who can’t remember her past and a man who has lost his wife bring layers to these lives.

As we follow along with Addison’s story, and then when we skip over to how Julian becomes part of the picture, I had suspicions and concerns. Did anything about this scenario ring true? Or, as some of the other characters believe, is Julian pulling some trick on Addison?

I couldn’t stop turning the pages, though, as all the details of the past finally become clear. Should we believe what was happening, or should we doubt everything?

By the end of the tale, I was biting my nails, hoping that there would be happiness for somebody. A five star read.

***

REVIEW: SYCAMORE, BY BRYN CHANCELLOR

Out for a hike one scorching afternoon in Sycamore, Arizona, a newcomer to town stumbles across what appear to be human remains embedded in the wall of a dry desert ravine. As news of the discovery makes its way around town, Sycamore’s longtime residents fear the bones may belong to Jess Winters, the teenage girl who disappeared suddenly some eighteen years earlier, an unsolved mystery that has soaked into the porous rock of the town and haunted it ever since. In the days it takes the authorities to make an identification, the residents rekindle stories, rumors, and recollections both painful and poignant as they revisit Jess’s troubled history. In resurrecting the past, the people of Sycamore will find clarity, unexpected possibility, and a way forward for their lives.

 

Skillfully interweaving multiple points of view, Bryn Chancellor knowingly maps the bloodlines of a community and the indelible characters at its heart—most notably Jess Winters, a thoughtful, promising adolescent poised on the threshold of adulthood. Evocative and atmospheric, Sycamore is a coming-of-age story, a mystery, and a moving exploration of the elemental forces that drive human nature—desire, loneliness, grief, love, forgiveness, and hope—as witnessed through the inhabitants of one small Arizona town.

 
 
mythoughts-laurelrainsnow-serendipity
 
 
Sycamore takes the reader back and forth through time, as we follow the residents of the small Arizona town. One of their own, a young teenage girl new to the town, went missing in December 1991. But as our tale sweeps back and forth from the past to the present, we learn about a relationship that turns the town upside down just before Jess disappears, and for many years, there was speculation that she had either run away due to the shame or that someone had hurt her.

 

As the residents’ lives continue and change, the town itself goes through its own metamorphosis until one day, a newcomer makes a discovery that will spin them all out again. What was the truth about Jess Winters and her disappearance? Would any of them ever recover from it?

The characters were interesting and were all linked around these events in some way. It was hard to keep track of them all throughout the story, but I couldn’t stop turning the pages. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SIX WEEKS TO LIVE, BY CATHERINE MCKENZIE

A gripping psychological suspense novel about a woman diagnosed with cancer who sets out to discover if someone poisoned her before her time is up, from the bestselling author of the “addictive and fast-paced” (Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author) thriller You Can’t Catch Me.

Jennifer Barnes never expected the shocking news she received at a routine doctor’s appointment: she has a terminal brain tumor—and only six weeks left to live.

While stunned by the diagnosis, the forty-eight-year-old mother decides to spend what little time she has left with her family—her adult triplets and twin grandsons—close by her side. But when she realizes she was possibly poisoned a year earlier, she’s determined to discover who might have tried to get rid of her before she’s gone for good.

Separated from her husband and with a contentious divorce in progress, Jennifer focuses her suspicions on her soon-to-be ex. Meanwhile, her daughters are each processing the news differently. Calm medical student Emily is there for whatever Jennifer needs. Moody scientist Aline, who keeps her mother at arm’s length, nonetheless agrees to help with the investigation. Even imprudent Miranda, who has recently had to move back home, is being unusually solicitous.

But with her daughters doubting her campaign against their father, Jennifer can’t help but wonder if the poisoning is all in her head—or if there’s someone else who wanted her dead.

 

mythoughts-laurelrainsnow-serendipity

From the very first page of Six Weeks to Live, I was hooked. I have loved every book by this author, and this one did not disappoint.

The book is full of family drama with characters you love to hate, including our first-person narrator Jennifer. Is she guilty, too? Or are others in her family circle to blame?

In the beginning, we all want to point our fingers at the horrible ex-husband Jake, but as more is revealed about each daughter, we can’t stop peeling back the layers to find the truth.

By the very last page, we have our answers, but I was still stunned by what we had learned. But then again, sometimes the least likely person becomes the villain.

A brilliant read that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: BEFORE SHE DISAPPEARED, BY LISA GARDNER

Frankie Elkin is an average middle-aged woman, a recovering alcoholic with more regrets than belongings. But she spends her life doing what no one else will–searching for missing people the world has stopped looking for. When the police have given up, when the public no longer remembers, when the media has never paid attention, Frankie starts looking.

A new case brings her to Mattapan, a Boston neighborhood with a rough reputation. She is searching for Angelique Badeau, a Haitian teenager who vanished from her high school months earlier.

Resistance from the Boston PD and the victim’s wary family tells Frankie she’s on her own—and she soon learns she’s asking questions someone doesn’t want answered. But Frankie will stop at nothing to discover the truth, even if it means the next person to go missing could be her.

 

mythoughts-laurelrainsnow-serendipity

Frankie Elkin brings a down-to-earth vibe to Before She Disappeared. As the first person narrator, she invites us into her world and her thoughts, and I felt right at home with her.

I enjoyed following her along as she searched for the missing teenager, and attended some AA meetings with her, too.

As she stood up against the official detectives, bringing her unique insights to the search, I applauded her efforts and her abilities. She gave us a peek into the world of the family members and the missing individuals, adding something extra even as she revealed more about herself.

I enjoyed her journey as she pieced together the clues that might lead to the missing girl, and then still another one, and the pursuit kept me intrigued throughout.

The book was long and winding, but I couldn’t stop turning the pages. 4.5 stars.

***

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.

 

mythoughts-laurelrainsnow-serendipity

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: 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 SAFE PLACE, BY ANNA DOWNES

 

Emily is a mess.

Emily Proudman just lost her acting agent, her job, and her apartment in one miserable day.

Emily is desperate.

Scott Denny, a successful and charismatic CEO, has a problem that neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can fix. Until he meets Emily.

Emily is perfect.

Scott offers Emily a summer job as a housekeeper on his remote, beautiful French estate. Enchanted by his lovely wife Nina, and his eccentric young daughter, Aurelia, Emily falls headlong into this oasis of wine-soaked days by the pool. But soon Emily realizes that Scott and Nina are hiding dangerous secrets, and if she doesn’t play along, the consequences could be deadly.

The story in The Safe Place unfolds slowly, almost like a lazy afternoon on a beautiful French estate. Emily is drawn to Nina and Scott, and to the life they share. But beneath the beauty, she senses something strange and secretive and mysterious about this family.

I was especially curious about Nina, whose behavior was very worrisome, and the things she hides behind cabinets and in cupboards…well, one might wonder what more she has hidden. But where is Scott in the mix? He is away most of the time, and whenever Emily wonders if she is in the wrong place, he reappears, seemingly pulling her into his web.

The slow pace felt like a drag at times, but then suddenly and unexpectedly the pace quickens and we begin to see bits and pieces of the hidden things. And they are alarming. From that point on, I was glued to the pages, wondering what would be revealed. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FAMILY UPSTAIRS, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom.

Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

 

My Thoughts: Our multiple narrators capture us from the beginning of The Family Upstairs. From Libby Jones, presumably the baby found in the Cheyne Walk house, to Henry, the son who went missing, there are a few others whose bits and pieces of the story unfold. It takes a while to figure out who Lucy is, and what she might have to do with Libby.

The cultish story is creepy with Gothic overtones. Who are these people, and how did one man take over all the adults and children that surrounded him? How did any of them escape, and who ended the lives of the perpetrators?

I loved all the twists and turns, and how nothing was exactly as we expected. By the end, however, all the missing pieces have fallen into place. A brilliant 5 star read.

***