REVIEW: KILL ALL YOUR DARLINGS, BY DAVID BELL

After years of struggling to write following the deaths of his wife and son, English professor Connor Nye publishes his first novel, a thriller about the murder of a young woman.

There’s just one problem: Connor didn’t write the book. His missing student did. And then she appears on his doorstep, alive and well, threatening to expose him.

Connor’s problems escalate when the police insist details in the novel implicate him in an unsolved murder from two years ago. Soon Connor discovers the crime is part of a disturbing scandal on campus and faces an impossible dilemma—admit he didn’t write the book and lose his job or keep up the lie and risk everything. When another murder occurs, Connor must clear his name by unraveling the horrifying secrets buried in his student’s manuscript.

This is a suspenseful, provocative novel about the sexual harassment that still runs rampant in academia—and the lengths those in power will go to cover it up.
 
 
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From the very first moments of Kill All Your Darlings, we are caught up in a twisted thriller that begins with a plagiarized novel and ends with murder.

The twists and turns really ramp up when Madeline comes back after being gone (and presumed dead) for two years.

The story sweeps back and forth in time and between characters as we are offered several perspectives on events. Just when the reader begins to suspect one person of a murder that has been featured in the book, we see numerous other possibilities.

Sexual harassment is an ongoing theme as some of the professors behave inappropriately with their students. But would any of them commit murder to keep that secret? Or is everything part of the plagiarism plot? In the end, we discover a less likely suspect who actually seems more so once we peel back the layers. A book that kept me turning pages and held me hostage throughout. 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: SURVIVE THE NIGHT, BY RILEY SAGER

It’s November 1991. Nirvana’s in the tape deck, George H. W. Bush is in the White House, and movie-obsessed college student Charlie Jordan is in a car with a man who might be a serial killer.

Josh Baxter, the man behind the wheel, is a virtual stranger to Charlie. They met at the campus ride board, each looking to share the long drive home to Ohio. Both have good reasons for wanting to get away. For Charlie, it’s guilt and grief over the shocking murder of her best friend, who became the third victim of the man known as the Campus Killer. For Josh, it’s to help care for his sick father—or so he says.

The longer she sits in the passenger seat, the more Charlie notices there’s something suspicious about Josh, from the holes in his story about his father to how he doesn’t want her to see inside the trunk. As they travel an empty, twisty highway in the dead of night, an increasingly anxious Charlie begins to think she’s sharing a car with the Campus Killer. Is Josh truly dangerous? Or is Charlie’s jittery mistrust merely a figment of her movie-fueled imagination?

One thing is certain—Charlie has nowhere to run and no way to call for help. Trapped in a terrifying game of cat and mouse played out on pitch-black roads and in neon-lit parking lots, Charlie knows the only way to win is to survive the night.

 

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With an intensity that never lets up, Survive the Night carries the reader along for a bumpy and unforgettable ride.

Charlie’s POV alternates between the movies in her mind and a distorted view of reality, but which one will keep her safe? Can she get through this very terrifying ride with a man called Josh, or will she discover how to save herself?

Along the road, she goes back and forth in her mind, both the movie version and the real one, trying to figure out what to do next. Can she find a way to escape, or can she send a message to a passerby or even her friend Robbie, back at campus? The coded messages they arranged beforehand might bring him to her rescue. Or she might realize, finally, that nobody is who she thought he was and there is no easy way out of her dilemma. A story that kept me thoroughly engaged, this one definitely earned 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE THERAPIST, BY B.A. PARIS

When Alice and Leo move into a newly renovated house in The Circle, a gated community of exclusive houses, it is everything they’ve dreamed of. But appearances can be deceptive…

As Alice is getting to know her neighbours, she discovers a devastating secret about her new home, and begins to feel a strong connection with Nina, the therapist who lived there before.

Alice becomes obsessed with trying to piece together what happened two years before. But no one wants to talk about it. Her neighbors are keeping secrets and things are not as perfect as they seem…

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We are introduced to The Therapist with a narrative from the past involving a therapist having a session with someone.

We begin to believe that the therapist from the past might be the murdered character Nina Maxwell, who lived in the house now occupied by Leo and Alice, but are we wrong about that?

As we follow Alice’s quest to help a P.I. figure out who really murdered Nina, we begin to doubt everyone who lives in The Circle…except the one we should be adding to our list of suspects.

A twisted tale that carries us along to an intense ending that earned 5 stars for me.

***The ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: MY LIES, YOUR LIES, BY SUSAN LEWIS

She’s rewriting history, but which version of the truth will she tell?

Joely tells other people’s secrets for a living. As a ghost writer, she’s used to scandal—but this just might be her strangest assignment yet. Freda has never told her story to anyone before. But now she’s ready to set the record straight and right a wrong that’s haunted her for forty years.

Freda’s memoir begins with a 15-year-old girl falling madly in love with her male teacher. As Joely sets out to write this troubling love story, she is spun into a world of secrets and lies she could never have imagined, causing her to question everything she thought she knew about her own family.

Delving further into Freda’s past, Joely’s sure she can uncover the truth—but at what cost?

Breathlessly intriguing from the first page to the last, My Lies, Your Lies is a gripping novel that intertwines the tumultuous past of one mysterious woman to the present of another with a harrowing, unexpected twist.
 
 
 
 
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As we begin My Lies, Your Lies, we are thrust into the story of a ghostwriter contemplating a new assignment. And interspersed with her story is a narrative from 1968 that slowly unfolds to reveal another story. Whose story is it, and what will be revealed?

There were so many layers and so many leaps between the past and the present that I had to keep myself alert for the twists and turns. Just when I thought I knew what would happen, I was surprised.

The characters were connected in many unexpected ways, so I did enjoy discovering how they were linked as I kept reading.

By the end, I wasn’t sure who to trust or who to believe, but I did love learning about them all. A 4.5 star read.
 
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REVIEW: THE PHOTOGRAPHER, BY MARY DIXIE CARTER

WHEN PERFECT IMAGES

As a photographer, Delta Dawn observes the seemingly perfect lives of New York City’s elite: snapping photos of their children’s birthday parties, transforming images of stiff hugs and tearstained faces into visions of pure joy, and creating moments these parents long for.

ARE MADE OF BEAUTIFUL LIES

But when Delta is hired for Natalie Straub’s eleventh birthday, she finds herself wishing she wasn’t behind the lens but a part of the scene—in the Straub family’s gorgeous home and elegant life.

THE TRUTH WILL BE EXPOSED

That’s when Delta puts her plan in place, by babysitting for Natalie; befriending her mother, Amelia; finding chances to listen to her father, Fritz. Soon she’s bathing in the master bathtub, drinking their expensive wine, and eyeing the beautifully finished garden apartment in their townhouse. It seems she can never get close enough, until she discovers that photos aren’t all she can manipulate.

 

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The Photographer pulls the reader into the mind of our narrator, Delta Dawn. Almost immediately, we realize that she is living in some alternate reality in which she can manipulate events, not just the photos she edits. Her mind takes her on imaginary journeys as she plots out how she hopes the world will turn out for her.

Her obsession with the Straub family seems innocent enough in the beginning, but soon she has taken a dark turn.

I couldn’t stop turning the pages as I waited to see what Delta would do, and how she would upend the lives of those she was trying to emulate. A 5 star read.

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REVIEW: BRAT: AN 80S STORY, BY ANDREW MCCARTHY

 
 
Most people know Andrew McCarthy from his movie roles in Pretty in Pink, St. Elmo’s Fire, Weekend at Bernie’s, and Less than Zero, and as a charter member of Hollywood’s Brat Pack. That iconic group of ingenues and heartthrobs included Rob Lowe, Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, and Demi Moore, and has come to represent both a genre of film and an era of pop culture. In his memoir Brat: An ’80s Story, McCarthy focuses his gaze on that singular moment in time. The result is a revealing look at coming of age in a maelstrom, reckoning with conflicted ambition, innocence, addiction, and masculinity. New York City of the 1980s is brought to vivid life in these pages, from scoring loose joints in Washington Square Park to skipping school in favor of the dark revival houses of the Village where he fell in love with the movies that would change his life. Filled with personal revelations of innocence lost to heady days in Hollywood with John Hughes and an iconic cast of characters, Brat is a surprising and intimate story of an outsider caught up in a most unwitting success.
 
 
 
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When I think of 1980s movies, I immediately recall Andrew McCarthy and the other iconic members of the group dubbed “the Brat Pack,” so reading Brat: An 80s Story took me back to those times.

My favorite film from that era was probably St. Elmo’s Fire, followed by Pretty in Pink. The author’s journey through his life toward a career in acting and how he overcame his issues of body image, insecurity, and all the things that plague young people, I felt a connection to him. Even now I will pick up a movie or show in which he starred and smile at the nostalgia I feel.

I also enjoyed following along in his story of overcoming addictions and turning to directing, another aspect of movie making.

I read the book in a day and couldn’t set it down. For me, it earned 5 stars..#2021ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: LOCAL WOMAN MISSING, BY MARY KUBICA

 

People don’t just disappear without a trace…

 

Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find…

 
 
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From the very beginning of Local Woman Missing, the reader is caught up in the intensity of lives turned upside down.

We meet the various friends and neighbors, soon seeing how the characters all have flaws and issues, and when the women begin disappearing, we think we might understand what has happened to each of them. But by the end of the story, we are stunned by the truth when it is finally revealed.

Parts of the story were confusing, as we try to sort through all the lies and secrets. Characters that seemed like good people…were not.

I held my breath as the details filtered down to us. I couldn’t believe how many people were caught up in the morass of evil that stemmed from a seemingly good person. 4.5 stars.

 
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REVIEW: WHEN THE STARS GO DARK, BY PAULA MCLAIN

 

Anna Hart is a seasoned missing persons detective in San Francisco with far too much knowledge of the darkest side of human nature. When tragedy strikes her personal life, Anna, desperate and numb, flees to the Northern California village of Mendocino to grieve. She lived there as a child with her beloved foster parents, and now she believes it might be the only place left for her. Yet the day she arrives, she learns that a local teenage girl has gone missing.

The crime feels frighteningly reminiscent of the most crucial time in Anna’s childhood, when the unsolved murder of a young girl touched Mendocino and changed the community forever. As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment. The most difficult lessons of her life have given her insight into how victims come into contact with violent predators. As Anna becomes obsessed with saving the missing girl, she must accept that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.

Weaving together actual cases of missing persons, trauma theory, and a hint of the metaphysical, this propulsive and deeply affecting novel tells a story of fate, necessary redemption, and what it takes, when the worst happens, to reclaim our lives—and our faith in one another.
 
 
 
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As we launch into When the Stars Go Dark, we are immediately caught up in Anna Hart’s flight from issues at home; she has left behind some problems in her marriage and family, and hopes to find peace by immersing herself in her search for missing children. We aren’t given the details of her family problems in the beginning, but they are deep ones. As Anna buries herself in some new searches, her mind takes her to past events, giving us a glimpse of her issues.

I liked meeting the characters from her past, learning about her time in foster care, and using those events to help her better connect with the children she hopes to rescue. Along the way, she meets up with others from her younger days living in Mendocino.

But what she doesn’t expect and eventually realizes is that her past will collide with present traumas, spurring her on in the task, but also reopening some old wounds. In the end, however, the memories lead to the resolution of some cases. 4.5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: THAT SUMMER, BY JENNIFER WEINER

Daisy Shoemaker can’t sleep. With a thriving cooking business, full schedule of volunteer work, and a beautiful home in the Philadelphia suburbs, she should be content. But her teenage daughter can be a handful, her husband can be distant, her work can feel trivial, and she has lots of acquaintances, but no real friends. Still, Daisy knows she’s got it good. So why is she up all night?

While Daisy tries to identify the root of her dissatisfaction, she’s also receiving misdirected emails meant for a woman named Diana Starling, whose email address is just one punctuation mark away from her own. While Daisy’s driving carpools, Diana is chairing meetings. While Daisy’s making dinner, Diana’s making plans to reorganize corporations. Diana’s glamorous, sophisticated, single-lady life is miles away from Daisy’s simpler existence. When an apology leads to an invitation, the two women meet and become friends. But, as they get closer, we learn that their connection was not completely accidental. Who IS this other woman, and what does she want with Daisy?

From the manicured Main Line of Philadelphia to the wild landscape of the Outer Cape, written with Jennifer Weiner’s signature wit and sharp observations, That Summer is a story about surviving our pasts, confronting our futures, and the sustaining bonds of friendship.

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As we follow the tale of two women named Diana, That Summer takes us back and forth in time. Something happened to fifteen-year-old Diana on the Outer Cape, but we don’t discover the details until much later.

Flipping between the present and those past events, we begin to finally understand what happened back then…and what is motivating one Diana in the present day.

As the events come together in the present, filling in the blanks from the past, we are in another #MeToo situation that will suddenly change directions. Will the two Dianas find solutions to the choices of the past and realize what is happening between them now? Meanwhile, “the entire country is in the midst of facing the wreckage of decades of sexual harassment and sexual assault.” Is it a time of reckoning, an inflection point?

As Daisy reflects on her life, her daughter Beatrice reminds her of snippets of the play The Doll’s House, and she begins to change how she views her world and her husband. She can now turn her perspective onto that summer and what happened to the other Diana.

I loved this story, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

 

REVIEW: TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, BY CAROLA LOVERING

Skye Starling is overjoyed when her boyfriend, Burke Michaels, proposes after a whirlwind courtship. Though Skye seems to have the world at her fingertips—she’s smart, beautiful, and from a well-off family—she’s also battled crippling OCD ever since her mother’s death when she was eleven, and her romantic relationships have suffered as a result.

But now Burke—handsome, older, and more emotionally mature than any man she’s met before—says he wants her. Forever. Except, Burke isn’t who he claims to be. And interspersed letters to his therapist reveal the truth: he’s happily married, and using Skye for his own, deceptive ends.

In a third perspective, set thirty years earlier, a scrappy seventeen-year-old named Heather is determined to end things with Burke, a local bad boy, and make a better life for herself in New York City. But can her adolescent love stay firmly in her past—or will he find his way into her future?

On a collision course she doesn’t see coming, Skye throws herself into wedding planning, as Burke’s scheme grows ever more twisted. But of course, even the best laid plans can go astray. And just when you think you know where this story is going, you’ll discover that there’s more than one way to spin the truth.

 

 

A story that twists and turns repeatedly throughout, Too Good To Be True spotlights bits and pieces via alternating narrators and letters written by two of the characters to their therapist.

Not only the present is revealed, but a story that began thirty years before, which yields just enough about the characters to keep us guessing. And then we are also gifted with the motives that were carefully hidden and finally out in the open.

I was hooked from the beginning but had issues with several of the characters. My favorite was Skye, as she had vulnerabilities that made me want to protect her. As for the others, I was not sorry to see them finally pay some consequences, but in my opinion, they did not pay enough. A 4.5 star read that kept me engaged throughout.

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