Robyn Harding’s Her Pretty Face

From the author of the bestselling novel, The Party, comes a chilling new novel of domestic suspense that revolves around two suburban women and the long-buried, dark secrets that they hold.

When Frances Metcalfe met Kate Randolph, she thought she had found a lifelong best friend.  Overweight and insecure, Frances prefers to hide in the background instead of standing up for herself.  Kate is everything that Frances is not: strong, beautiful, confident.  Kate makes Frances want to be a better wife and mother and homemaker.  Best of all, Frances’ troubled son finds a friend in Kate’s son, and stops being labeled as the outcast in the elite private school they attend.  But one of these women is not who she says she is, and her secret – once out – has the power to destroy everything in its path.

Can people ever really change, or are we all stuck in our past, constantly making the same mistakes and never learning from them?  Or, knowing that we’re making these mistakes but not caring enough to change, or worse, not wanting to change.  This is just one of many questions brought up in Her Pretty Face.  Like most of us, I would like to think that, under the right circumstances, everyone is capable of change.  Not just that.  That everyone is capable to want to change.  In the novel, we are introduced to two women – both running away from their pasts – who form a bond.  Neither of them share their secrets with each other, but they don’t need to.  They understand each other in ways that no one else could: the friendship they’ve always been looking for.  Some things are unforgivable, but are they really?  Can their friendship stand the ultimate test?

Told in three narratives, once you pick this book up, it’s difficult to put back down.  I carried it around in my purse for about a week, but read it in three days.  Out now from Scout Press, I cannot wait to see what Robyn Harding does next.

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Robyn Harding’s Her Pretty Face.  Scout Press.  July 2018
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Sandie Jones’ The Other Woman

Emily’s fiancé, Adam is the perfect man.  He’s strong, he’s attentive, and he’s good to his mother, Pammie.  But Pammie is a different story.  Undermining Emily at every turn she is the nightmare mother-in-law we all dread.  The only problem is that everyone else thinks that Pammie is the sweetest woman…  But if it’s not all in Emily’s head why is she the only person that can see it?

On first glance, Sandie Jones’ debut novel The Other Woman feels a bit like the JLo movie Monster in Law.  They both feature future MIL’s who lie and manipulate and genuinely make the woman feel crazy, but that’s where their similarities end.  Unlike in the movie – where Michael Vartan’s character is actually perfect – Adam is not the perfect man.  In fact, he’s not even likeable.  Every time that Emily tries to talk to him about what Pammie is doing he shuts her down, refuses to see the bad and makes Emily (and us) think that maybe it’s all really her.  So is it?

I started this book on my plane ride home from vacation and finished it two days later.  It was that good.  And the shocking end that everyone is talking about?  I never saw it coming!  It’s out in stores next week so everyone grab this one!

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The Other Woman by Sandie Jones. Minotaur Books. August 2018

Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway

All too often I find an author who writes a few great books and then goes downhill.  I’m not sure if it’s because they’re out of good ideas, bored with the genre, or just assume that their readers will continue to follow them no matter what and simply stop trying.

All that being said, I’m always impressed when an author continues to grow, whether they change genres or combine them, because then I feel like I can continue to read and enjoy – and Ruth Ware is one of these.  In her fourth novel, The Death of Mrs. Westaway, she continues to stay in the psychological suspense genre, but adds another layer to her writing which makes it all that much better.

After taking over her dead mother’s psychic reading booth and borrowing money from a loan shark, Hal Westaway’s life is anything but stable.  Just as she’s about to give up, she receives a letter regarding an inheritance from a family she never knew existed.  Despite the fact that she believes it to be some sort of mistake, Hal’s desperation gets the better of her and she sets out to collect.   Once in the midst of it, Hal realizes that nothing is what it seems, and this family and inheritance may very well be the death of her.

Filled with her signature twists and turns, you are kept guessing (and changing your opinion!) until the very end.  Fans of Ware’s previous works, The Lying Game, The Woman in Cabin 10, and In a Dark, Dark Woods will NOT want to miss this!

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The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. May 2018 @ Scout Press

Caite Dolan-Leach’s Dead Letters

A cat-and-mouse suspense novel following a young woman as she sifts through the chaos left by her twin sister – whose death is cloaked in mystery.

Nearly two years ago, Ava Antipova left her family’s failing vineyard in the Finger Lakes to learn about literature in Paris, but she was really just running away – from an absentee father who left when she was young, from a critical mother who was losing her mind to dementia, from her twin, Zelda, and the man who broke her heart.  After receiving an email from her mother about Zelda’s untimely death – she was burned alive in their barn – Ava leaves her life in Paris behind, returning to her family home to once again clean up Zelda’s mess.  Soon after she’s back, Ava starts receiving messages from Zelda, clues as to what really happened.  Convinced that her sister is still alive, Ava races against time to put all of the pieces together and in the process, rediscovers part of herself she thought had been lost forever.

When I first started reading Dead Letters, I had trouble getting into it and almost immediately put it down, but I’d been surprised by books recently, so I decided to give it a few more pages, and I’m so glad that I did.  Dead Letters isn’t just another suspense novel, and it isn’t at all paranormal either (I dislike anything paranormal).  The story isn’t about the ending, whether Zelda is in fact alive or dead, rather, it’s about the journey.  Ava was always running away from her problems, whether physically or mentally through alcohol – and what Zelda has done really forces Ava to reevaluate her life and discover her identity.  Despite the fact that she hadn’t spoken to Zelda in the two years she’d been living in Paris, Ava could never really see herself as anything other than one half of a whole.  Ava was the smart one, the reserved one, the one who cared too much about what others thought.  Whereas Zelda was the rebel, she was the drama queen, she never censored herself or her needs.

Dead Letters makes you think about yourself – the labels that you have kept, and the ones you have thrown away.  When we’re younger, we’re so much less afraid and more willing to take risks and try new things.  But, as we age, we pair down our personalities and interests, and focus on specializing a few traits rather than a ton.  Here, Dolan-Leach unlocks the door to our childhood so that we can, once again, rediscover our true selves.

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Dead Letters by Caite Dolan-Leach. Random House. Paperback Edition Feb. 2018.

Wendy Walker’s Emma in the Night

“We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know. What I do know is that the truth can evade us, hiding behind our blind spots, our preconceptions, our hungry hearts that long for quiet. Still, it is always there if we open our eyes and try to see it. If we really try to see.”

A gripping new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten – in the vein of S.J. Watson and Tana French – following a psychologist’s desperate search to find a missing woman three years after her disappearance.

When Emma and Cass Tanner disappeared three years ago, the only clues they left behind were Emma’s car parked in the beach parking lot, and her shoes discarded in the sand. After a thorough investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement, no new information was discovered and the case remained unsolved – until three years later when Cass surfaces at her mother’s door in the early morning hours. Alternately narrated by Cass and Dr. Abby Winter – the FBI forensic psychologist who worked the original case – we are given the details of what happened to the girls on the night of their disappearance, and where they’ve been all this time. But something isn’t right: the facts don’t add up. How much of what Cass is saying is actually true? As Abby sifts through the truths and the lies, she uncovers something far darker than anyone could have imagined…but is she too late to save Emma?

Abby is one of those characters that, when a job hits too close to home, either falls completely apart or stands on the brink of falling apart. It’s why I loved Rob Ryan from In the Woods and Elliot Stabler from Law & Order SVU. She has become an insomniac who never sleeps, and an alcoholic. She doesn’t remember what happened in cases six months ago, but she still remembers every last detail of Emma and Cass’s disappearance. Characters like Abby, characters that become so emotionally invested in a case that they eat, breathe, and sleep the facts, they are the ones that seem the most real.

While Cass can be looked at with a skeptic lens, she is also the victim. She had to grow up way too soon. She had to learn how to lie and manipulate and play games to get things that we take for granted, without anyone to completely confide in. Cass is cold and calculating, but she acts that way because she has lost her ability to trust. At times she’s a bit unlikeable, but that gets overshadowed again and again by your ability to empathize with her.

What I love most about this novel is the same thing that I loved from her previous one: the psychology. Though psychological thrillers have become hugely popular in recent years, few people know how to do it right. A good thriller catches your attention, a great thriller grips you and doesn’t let go, but an exceptional thriller – though rare – forces you to slow down and absorb every last word, taking you to places far greater than you could ever expect. From the very first paragraph I could tell that Emma in the Night was one of those rare exceptionals. Walker’s descriptive prose is carefully crafted, and she keeps her cards close, not showing anything in her hand before you need it to be revealed.

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Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker. St Martin’s Press 2017.

Michelle Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband

A page-turning suspense novel reminiscent of Ruth Ware’s newly released The Lying Game, following three best friends – that met at college twenty-two years before – who must deal with the repercussions of a decades’ old secret that leads one of them to their death.

Aside from their living quarters, Kate, Jenny, and Aubrey – or, the Whipple Triplets, as they were aptly nicknamed – had nothing in common. Kate, who’s father was a Carlisle alumni, hailed from the privileged world of NYC’s Upper East Side. Jenny was born in Belle River, the town where Carlisle was located, where her parents owned a hardware store. And Aubrey, who was on scholarship, grew up in the slums of Las Vegas to a single mother who could barely afford to pay the bills. They were all running away from something, all trying to reinvent themselves. At first, their friendships seemed to bloom, but as is often the case with a close-knit group of adolescent girls, they soon were at odds over boys, going behind each other’s backs and at times engaging in silent competitions. Despite their antics, the three of them swore that they would always be there for each other (it was a love/hate bond)…until the end of their freshman year when something tragic causes them to part ways. Twenty-two years later, they are all married and have managed to move on with their lives when the past resurfaces.

These three women claim to be best friends, but underneath the surface they are more like frenemies, because they really can’t stand each other. Kate, Jenny, and Aubrey are all self-centered and care more about how they’re seen to the world and in their perspective lives, than anything else, but that’s part of what makes this book so interesting. None of the characters are really likeable, but your opinions of them constantly change. Sometimes they’re naïve, other times vindictive – what Campbell does is kid of brilliant actually, because there are moments where you do care, followed by moments where you don’t.

What I liked about this novel is that it really did keep me guessing as to who caused the death. Early enough on, we do find out which one of the frenemies dies, but the real mystery is who was involved in said death, which is not as black and white as you would expect. Campbell takes you on a rollercoaster ride – as soon as I was certain that I knew the answer, something new would be revealed that would completely change my opinion. You are really left guessing until the final page, and even then, the culprit is shocking.

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Michelle Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband. St Martin’s Press 2017.

Wendy Walker’s All is Not Forgotten

“I heard a mumble then, a very quiet mumble. I looked at Jenny. Tears rolled down her face. Her mouth was dry as she whispered the word. Girl. Girl.

 

There’s a right time and moment to pick up a book. Sometimes, they have to be saved until we’re ready to experience them, until we’re in the right mindset in order to really appreciate and understand them the way that they were meant to be understood. Recently, I’d been indecisive, struggling to make a decision between the piles of books that I have at my apartment and my office. It had been three days since I finished the last book I’d been reading. Three days without reading is a rarity for me, unless I’m going through some personal turmoil. So, on that Friday afternoon, I stared at my stacks and picked up All is Not Forgotten. I had been holding onto an advanced copy for a long time – it pubbed this past summer – but finally, I was ready to read it.

Jenny, a teenage girl, is raped in the woods while music from a house party – one she’d been attending – blared in the background. At the hospital, she’s given a drug. Its purpose was to erase the memory of the event from her mind and enable her to live on as though the rape did not happen. But can your mind ever really forget? Narrated by Alan, a psychiatrist who works with Jenny to try and help her recover her stolen memories, we learn something that we already know: that the brain is complicated. And, while its capacity to retain memories and file them away is truly fascinating, there is still so much that is unknown.

So many novels on rape focus on the victim, which is why I thought it an interesting choice to use Alan as the narrator. He’s far enough removed that he can see what Jenny and her parents cannot. At the same time, he’s also invested…sometimes almost obsessively so. But it’s not until the novel ends that we really understand why. Not one of the characters is the person that they present to the world. Everyone is hiding behind a screen, terrified that they will be found out.

In the end, is Alan able to help Jenny recover that memory? And if so, will she be able to move on with her life?

 

“Jenny. Do you want to remember what happened to you that night in the woods?”

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All is Not Forgotten.  Wendy Walker.  St Martin’s Press 2016

Tana French’s The Trespasser

“That feeling…it lives inside of you somewhere deeper and older and more real than anything else except sex, and when it comes rising it takes your whole body for its own. It’s a smell of blood raging at the back of your nose, it’s your arm muscle throbbing to let go the bowstring, it’s drums speeding in your ears and a victory roar building at the bottom of your gut.”

 

Ever since reading her debut novel In the Woods, Tana French has been a long standing favorite of mind. I have read all of her novels, and for the most part, have loved every single one of them – although, her third novel, Faithful Place is still my number one favorite.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of French’s novels is how she takes a secondary character from the previous one and creates her next story around them. You get to know more about that character, see them in a different light, and your feelings about them change – sometimes.

In The Trespasser, however, she pairs the same two detectives and puts them in the forefront once again. The murder seems to be your basic lovers’ quarrel, but as Moran and Conway get deeper into the case, they soon realize that the evidence and prime suspect doesn’t line up. The victim, the suspect, the murder squad…nothing is as it seems.

As with all of French’s novels, she brings you along for the ride with the detectives as they try to solve their case. The theories that they believe you believe, until a new theory arises, and a new one. French keeps you holding on with her beautiful descriptions until the very end, when you come to realize who it was all along.

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The Trespasser, Tana French.  Viking Books, fall 2016.

Jessica Knoll’s Luckiest Girl Alive

When I first picked up Jessica Knoll’s debut novel, Luckiest Girl Alive, I didn’t really know that much about it other than the fact that it was part of my favorite genre.  It had been getting great press and was being compared to multiple books that I have read including Flynn’s Gone Girl (ok, I have still not read this one, but I saw the movie) and Harrison’s The Silent Wife ( you can read my post here A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife).  So, I decided to give it a shot.  And it was not at all what I had expected.

The book follows Ani FaNelli, a young woman who is striving to create the perfect life for herself.  She has a glamorous job working at a magazine and a handsome fiancé from a well-to-do family, but events that happened in her past keep finding their way to the surface and threaten the life that she has carefully pieced together.

While Knoll does alternate between the past and the present, for the most part, the story takes place in the past.  It is there where we learn of the private pain and public humiliation that Ani (TifAni back then) had to endure.  And while we do feel for her, there is something dark and sinister underlying throughout that at times makes you question just how honest the narrator is being.  But also, it makes you wonder whether it is possible for someone who went through as much as she did to go on living a normal life without unconsciously trying to sabotage it.

It’s always nice when there is a character that you like in a novel, one that you can somehow relate to.  Ani isn’t likeable.  In fact, none of the characters really were, but they were also more in the background.  In Ani, we quickly find a character shift.  In the beginning she is a strong, put together, successful woman, but that soon changes and for most of the novel she is just that scared, traumatized young adult who’s only ‘coolness’ is the façade that she passes on for reality.  Ani wasn’t likeable, but she is relatable.  There are many people out there who never show their true characters, who never let others in for fear of getting rejected or hurt or labeled.  Ani drives this story forward because even though you don’t care, you want to know what happened, you want to know what she went through and you want to know how it turns out.

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Karin Tanabe’s The Price of Inheritance

In Karin Tanabe’s second novel, The Price of Inheritance, we are brought into the world of art history, famed auction houses and antiquities, in an occasionally witty, sometimes dark story that will keep your mind turning long after the last page has been completed.

The novel follows Carolyn Everett who, for the past ten years has worked in the American furniture department at the auction house Christie’s, a job that she loves more than life itself, something she took pride in. Having grown up in Newport, Rhode Island, and being best friends with one of the wealthiest families, Carolyn was ambitious, and learned early on that she had to work hard in order to get to where she wanted to go. After a career-defining mistake leaves Carolyn unemployed and, more importantly, unemployable, she heads back to Newport, leaving everything and everyone in NYC temporarily behind to try and create a new name for herself. While attending an auction, Carolyn purchases a Middle Eastern bowl for $20 on a hunch that it was much more valuable. This puts her on a hunt to find the bowl’s origin, and on a collision course with its former owner, marine Tyler Ford. As Carolyn’s relationship with Tyler grows, and she gets closer to solving the bowl’s mystery, she stumbles toward something that has the potential to not only wreck her already tainted career even further, but her life as well.

The Price of Inheritance is as much a story as it is a lesson in art history, but in a good way. The intricacies that befall the novel are told in such a way as to evoke intrigue, even if art is not your forté. The novel also extends the idea that things are not always what they seem, and that sometimes the only thing you can trust is your gut, regardless of what your heart or head may want.

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