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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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: 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.

***

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.***