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.

Chevy Stevens’ Never Let You Go

A twisty suspense novel that explores the dark side of love and obsession.

Chevy Stevens’ Never Let You Go follows Lindsey Nash who, eleven years ago took her young daughter and escaped from her abusive husband Andrew’s grasp.  That same night, Andrew is arrested on unrelated charges and sentenced to ten years in prison.  Now, Lindsey has made a new life for herself; she owns her own business and takes care of her teenage daughter, Sophie.  When Andrew is released from prison, odd things start to happen and, despite Andrew’s claim that he’s reformed, Lindsey is convinced that he is behind everything, slowly plotting his revenge.  But, is Andrew the one behind the threats, or has someone else been waiting in the wings to make their move?  Told through Lindsey and Sophie’s perspectives in the present and past, Stevens weaves a chilling tale that makes you question every relationship you have and have ever had.

As someone who is an avid reader – and particularly of this genre – I’ve read a lot of stories that revolve around the main character running away to protect herself, or falling for the wrong person, or befriending the wrong person.  This one has it all, but somehow Stevens has a way of making it seem fresh and new.  Every character is flawed which makes all of them relatable – the mother who would do anything to protect her child; the husband with abandonment issues who became violent; the teenager who overshares and under-shares, desperate to hold on to relationships with both parents.

For someone who was in an abusive relationship and claims to have a hard time trusting anyone, Lindsey naïvely lets her guard down more often than not.  In the span of the novel, not only does she date two different men (Greg and Marcus), but she also talks freely about her past, sometimes divulging more details than she should.  She’s in constant contradiction to herself, one minute in a state of fight-or-flight and the other completely content.

We don’t know a lot about Andrew or what he went through in the past that causes him to act abusively, though he does admit to Sophie that his violence stemmed from severe abandonment issues.  I went back and forth on my feelings about Andrew, sometimes I believed that he really had changed and felt sorry for him, and other times I was convinced that he hadn’t.

And Sophie just seems like the typical teenager that you love to hate.  The one who is trying to become her own person and learning how to trust her gut, even if that means not always listening to the authority figure in her life.

At times dark and moody, Never Let You Go is a MUST read for suspense novel lovers.

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Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens. St Martins 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.

Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You

“’Imagine if,’ she repeated. She’d liked the sound of the words when he said them. They sounded so much better than almost.”

A page-turning psychological suspense debut in the vein of Mary Torjussen’s Gone Without a Trace, about the consequences of secrets not shared.

We all have secrets, but how can you ascertain those that are harmless from those that have the power to destroy? While on a family vacation, Violet returns to the hotel room to find her husband, Finn, and their son, Bear, gone, and only her belongings remaining. A week later, Finn shows up with Bear at their friend Caitlin’s house demanding she help him hide, blackmailing her with a secret from her past. Told through the eyes of three narrators – Violet, Finn and Caitlin – Almost Missed You keeps the reader on the edge of her seat until the very end. What does Finn have over Caitlin? Will Violet get Bear back? And, most importantly, why did Finn run?

Although Violet does in fact love her son and is distraught over Bear’s disappearance, it’s sometimes hard to feel empathy towards her, as she is naïve and doesn’t seem to have much depth. She pushes away Grams and prefers to drink vodka alone. Violet believes that her and Finn’s love story was nothing short of magical and it’s not until she finds out the truth about his past that she starts to question the man that she married from the one that she first met on the beach all of those years ago.

Throughout the novel, Caitlin is very much in the fight or flight mode. On the one hand she feels for her Violet and wants to tell her that Bear is safe, but on the other, she’s worried that the life she had made for herself is going to completely fall apart. Perhaps Caitlin should have told Violet about Finn’s past. Maybe if she had, the outcome would have been different, but she was Finn’s friend first and it was not her secret to tell.

Surprisingly, my favorite character was not Violet or Caitlin, but actually Finn – not what you would expect given his actions, but I felt that he was the most real. He made mistakes, but he actually let himself feel things. He wasn’t scared of the pain: he wanted to feel it. Everyone kept talking about how he and Violet were meant to be, how the way they met and then found each other again was one in a million, but the truth was that Finn was still living in the past and their relationship never stood a chance.

At times heart-wrenching, Almost Missed You shows that there is always more than one side to a story…sometimes there is three. And that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can never really know a person.

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Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You. 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

Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go

A debut psychological thriller marketed as the next Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train from Berkley, Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go is a novel that demands your attention. With so many people talking about a HUGE twist, I was intrigued. And, when an advanced copy landed in my inbox, it quickly moved to the top of my reading list.

The novel opens on a rainy afternoon, as a mother and her son are crossing the street in front of their house. The boy slips out of his mother’s grasp and, in one life-shattering moment, is hit and killed by a car that turns and quickly flees the scene. Leaving the mother in the street huddled over her child’s lifeless body.

But who was behind the wheel?

Following Jenna Gray – a woman who leaves her life behind for one in a remote Welsh town – and the officers investigating the boy’s murder, I Let You Go is a brilliant novel that leaves you on the edge of your seat until the final page. As the police come closer to finding the driver, we see Jenna trying to move on from a past that keeps resurfacing.

The novel is at once heartbreaking and satisfying, and the HUGE twist that they promise comes along in the middle of the novel and does not disappoint. I was left speechless with my jaw on the floor, desperate to keep turning the pages and not stopping until I had reached the conclusion.

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Berkley 2016. Clare Mackintosh’s I Let You Go

T.R. Richmond’s What She Left

“Obsession is territory with which I’m well acquainted. Its coarse rub, its barbed spike, its musty spoiled sourness. The line between love and hate is paper-thin, and when you love someone and it turns to hate, there’s an inverse relationship between the two.”

 

Do we ever really know ourselves? Do we ever really know anyone? In the days where we live on social media, we are well aware that everything we put onto the internet is locked there forever. But just how much truth can actually be found? In T.R. Richmond’s debut psychological suspense novel, What She Left, we follow a professor as he tries to piece together the life and mysterious death of one of his former students.

Through letters, emails, blog posts, text messages and news articles, the story of Alice Salmon starts to unfold, a twenty-five year old woman whose career in journalism was starting to buzz, and whose love of university-day partying could not be completely outrun, no matter how hard she tried. Alice was a woman who was still figuring out her life and plan her future. But who was she, and what really happened to her? Anthropology professor Jeremy Cooke attempts to find out by contacting friends and family members, and researching her social-media-persona (aka stalking).

There’s a lot that can be said about this book. Take the character of Alice. Through multiple perspectives (including her own), she comes across as someone who is not in complete control of her actions, jumping to conclusions too quickly, giving into peer pressure, and a little needy. But would she have jumped into the river on a snowy February night and ended her life? With so many different points of view, who, if anyone can be trusted? Everyone is hiding secrets, even Professor Cooke, whose obsessive attachment to Alice and declaration of sticking to the truth tends to waiver at times.

If you are looking for a good thriller with a fresh, modern take, this is your book. It is formatted a bit differently than I was used to, but that actually adds to the tone and story. What She Left will grab your attention right away, leaving you guessing until the very end – and stay with you long after you’ve finished the novel.

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T.R. Richmond’s What She Left. Simon & Schuster January 2016.