REVIEW: THE DISINVITED GUEST, BY CAROL GOODMAN

Lucy Harper still has traumatic memories and lingering health problems from the 2020 pandemic. So, when a new virus surfaces years later, she and her husband, Reed, seek refuge on his family’s private island off the coast of Maine. Ostensibly safely sequestered with their five closest friends and family, Lucy should feel at ease. So why does she feel the weight of the island’s dark history pushing down on the group?

As Lucy uncovers Reed’s family secrets and the island’s history as a quarantine hospital for typhus patients, she becomes obsessed with the past and feels her own grip on reality slipping. Tempers flare, strange signs appear in the woods, and accidents turn deadly. Is the island haunted by the dead? Or is someone amongst the living taking their revenge?
 
 
 
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The Disinvited Guestis the story of people trying to escape a second pandemic, one that surfaced after the first one in 2020. On a private island in Maine, they hunker down, hoping to survive with friends. But family secrets and stories of past quarantines recounted in an old journal stir them and create anxieties that are unexpected. Fears even extend to others sharing the island retreat, creating suspicion and lack of trust. How had some of previous guests on the island died, and what would happen to those who remain? Who should stay and who should be forced to leave?

I found the story haunting as it kept me reading, although I was bored by the journal tales from the 1800s. I did like the ending, despite the sadness that clung to those who remained. 4 stars.
 
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REVIEW: SISTER DEAR, BY HANNAH MARY MCKINNON

When Eleanor Hardwicke’s beloved father dies, her world is further shattered by a gut-wrenching secret: the man she’s grieving isn’t really her dad. Eleanor was the product of an affair and her biological father is still out there, living blissfully with the family he chose. With her personal life spiraling, a desperate Eleanor seeks him out, leading her to uncover another branch on her family tree—an infuriatingly enviable half sister.

Perfectly perfect Victoria has everything Eleanor could ever dream of. Loving childhood, luxury home, devoted husband. All of it stolen from Eleanor, who plans to take it back. After all, good sisters are supposed to share. And quiet little Eleanor has been waiting far too long for her turn to play.

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When the man she believed to be her father dies, Eleanor is devastated. Especially after learning the identity of her biological dad. Sister Dear takes the reader into Eleanor’s new world order as she tries to learn about her “real” dad, and then begins to deal with the rejection. Devastation clings to her, but she has chosen to learn everything she can about her bio sister, who has her place in that family, and before she realizes it, she has created a whole new identity and family in her mind.

What will happen once she has completely immersed herself in this recreated family? Will she finally fit in? Or will she always have to be the one outside looking in? A captivating tale that earned 5 stars.

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REVIEW: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, BY DELIA OWENS

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life—until the unthinkable happens.

Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

 

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As I absorbed the characters, settings, and natural world of Where the Crawdads Sing, I was so caught up in it all that I simply could not put it down.

As events unfolded, and even when secrets came to light, I felt a deep connection to everything within the pages and rooted for the little Marsh Girl and the life she led.

Kya and Tate were so perfect for one another that I kept rooting for them to finally be together. And I longed for the peace that the natural world brought to them. A perfectly pulled together five star read.

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REVIEW: A WORLD OF CURIOSITIES, BY LOUISE PENNY

It’s spring and Three Pines is reemerging after the harsh winter. But not everything buried should come alive again. Not everything lying dormant should reemerge.

But something has.

As the villagers prepare for a special celebration, Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir find themselves increasingly worried. A young man and woman have reappeared in the Sûreté du Québec investigators’ lives after many years. The two were young children when their troubled mother was murdered, leaving them damaged, shattered. Now they’ve arrived in the village of Three Pines.

But to what end?

Gamache and Beauvoir’s memories of that tragic case, the one that first brought them together, come rushing back. Did their mother’s murder hurt them beyond repair? Have those terrible wounds, buried for decades, festered and are now about to erupt?

As Chief Inspector Gamache works to uncover answers, his alarm grows when a letter written by a long dead stone mason is discovered. In it the man describes his terror when bricking up an attic room somewhere in the village. Every word of the 160-year-old letter is filled with dread. When the room is found, the villagers decide to open it up.

As the bricks are removed, Gamache, Beauvoir and the villagers discover a world of curiosities. But the head of homicide soon realizes there’s more in that room than meets the eye. There are puzzles within puzzles, and hidden messages warning of mayhem and revenge.

In unsealing that room, an old enemy is released into their world. Into their lives. And into the very heart of Armand Gamache’s home.

 

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A twisted tale that takes the reader into A World of Curiosities. Armand Gamache is back on the scene, finding new answers to old puzzles.

The characters of Three Pines return and take us to strange events that could have stayed in the past, but haven’t.

The tale was confusing at times, as it went back and forth and revealed what we didn’t know. A 4 star read.

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REVIEW: THE COUPLE AT THE TABLE, BY SOPHIE HANNAH

Jane and William are enjoying their honeymoon at an exclusive couples-only resort…

…until Jane receives a chilling note warning her to “Beware of the couple at the table nearest to yours.” At dinner that night, five other couples are present, and none of their tables is any nearer or farther away than any of the others. It’s almost as if someone has set the scene in order to make the warning note meaningless—but why would anyone do that?

Jane has no idea.

But someone in this dining room will be dead before breakfast, and all the evidence will suggest that no one there that night could have possibly committed the crime.

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In a stunning and twisted story, The Couple at the Table takes the reader through a series of events that lead to the murder of one of them.

Lucy’s husband was stolen by Jane, her life has turned upside down, and even her vacation at a resort she loved had changed everything for her.

But when Jane is murdered during that vacation, everyone is a suspect, including Lucy, but Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer are determined to find the truth.

So many twists and turns carry the reader through until the truth unfolds in strange ways. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE PRISONER, BY B. A. PARIS

Amelie has always been a survivor, from losing her parents as a child in Paris to making it on her own in London. As she builds a life for herself, she is swept up into a glamorous lifestyle where she married the handsome billionaire Ned Hawthorne.

But then, Amelie wakes up in a pitch-black room, not knowing where she is. Why has she been taken? Who are her mysterious captors? And why does she soon feel safer here, imprisoned, than she had begun to feel with her husband Ned?

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A dark thriller, The Prisoner takes the reader through a tempestuous experience as a captive held for unknown reasons. The story is told alternately between the past and the present, which is a good thing, as focusing only on being kept in a dark and lonely place, frightened and not knowing what would happen next, would surely be a dreary experience.

Amelie has inadvertently found herself in a situation with a wealthy man named Ned who might be her ticket to having enough money to go to law school, but which she will soon realize is more dire than she could have imagined.

As we follow her journey in the dark, even as we also learn more about her past, we soon realize that everything is a lot more complex than we had realized. I loved how the journey unfolded, which was much more exciting than I thought it would be. A 4.5 star read.

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REVIEW: THE NURSERY, BY SUE WATSON

Then: Morning light shines into the nursery, casting shadows across the pale pink walls and wooden cot in the middle of the room. She opens the door expecting to hear the soft coo of her daughter Sofia stretching herself awake. But the room is silent. The cot is empty. Her little girl has vanished…

Now: Twelve years have passed, but Emily will never forget the night her life changed forever and she’s happy to have her daughter back beside her. A teenager now, Sofia—who was once a star student—is getting into trouble at school and she’s started asking questions about when she was a baby, but Emily can’t tell her what really happened the night she went missing. Nobody would understand why Emily did what she did, and if anyone ever found out, she could lose her daughter forever.

But when Emily catches Sofia messaging a stranger online, her heart pounds in her chest as she reads the last message received.

Your mother isn’t who you think she is.

Days later, Emily returns home to find the house silent. She checks every room but Sofia has vanished, again. She shudders as she remembers that night in the nursery. Has her past finally caught up with her? And is she already too late to save her precious daughter?

 
 
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From the first pages of The Nursery, the reader is gripped by the danger that seems ever-present in the lives of Emily and Sofia. There are secrets Emily carries from the past, and now she is constantly watching out for Sofia and what might happen to her because of her online connections.

At first, we think we know Emily’s secrets, but more of them come stumbling out from unexpected places, and a dangerous person from her past, aided by someone new in her present, keeps me on tenterhooks. And even when we think we have the answers another twist comes at the very end. A 5 star read.

 
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REVIEW: THE NEIGHBOUR UPSTAIRS, BY KATHRYN CROFT

The break-up of Olivia’s marriage is hard on all involved, but especially her nine-year-old daughter, Ellie. They attempt to build a new life, and focus on the future. But Olivia is crushingly lonely, so when her new neighbour, Michael, extends the hand of friendship, it’s all she can do to stop herself clutching at it and never letting go.

Olivia has no idea how the course of her life will be altered by that choice.

Before long, Michael and Olivia are a couple. There are some difficulties making it work – after all, both parties have emotional baggage. Doesn’t everyone keep some secrets? If only Ellie could adjust, and Michael’s erratic sister, Chloe, didn’t keep bringing drama to their door.

But Olivia doesn’t listen to the warning signs before it’s far, far too late. By the time she realises something is badly wrong with the man she’s involved with, she cannot escape. The only way out is for the truth to explode like a bomb, shattering their lives, and ensuring no one caught in the middle will ever be the same again…

 

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When Olivia first leaves her husband Carl, she and daughter Ellie set about to create their new home in the downstairs flat of a nice building. The Neighbour Upstairs portrays Michael, who seems like a nice person, as someone to fill in the emptiness in this new life. But things are not what they seem, and while I couldn’t believe that Olivia spent so much time giving this weird neighbor so much of her attention, I was actually stunned by the truth when it finally exploded, changing everything about her life.

The story dragged quite a bit for me, and I was frustrated by how Olivia gave in to Michael, trying to create a happy relationship when the man had no redeeming qualities, in my opinion. The dark secret he is keeping would have been the final straw much sooner if Olivia had been paying more attention, and unfortunately, when it did come out, the damage was almost insurmountable. 3.5 stars.

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REVIEW: LEFT ON TENTH, BY DELIA EPHRON

Delia Ephron had struggled through several years of heartbreak. She’d lost her sister, Nora, and then her husband, Jerry, both to cancer. Several months after Jerry’s death, she decided to make one small change in her life—she shut down his landline, which crashed her internet. She ended up in Verizon hell.

She channeled her grief the best way she knew: by writing a New York Times op-ed. The piece caught the attention of Peter, a Bay Area psychiatrist, who emailed her to commiserate. Recently widowed himself, he reminded her that they had shared a few dates fifty-four years before, set up by Nora. Delia did not remember him, but after several weeks of exchanging emails and sixties folk songs, he flew east to see her. They were crazy, utterly, in love.

But this was not a rom-com: four months later she was diagnosed with AML, a fierce leukemia.

In Left on Tenth, Delia Ephron enchants as she seesaws us between tears and laughter, navigating the suicidal lows of enduring cutting-edge treatment and the giddy highs of a second chance at love. With Peter and her close girlfriends by her side, with startling clarity, warmth, and honesty about facing death, Ephron invites us to join her team of warriors and become believers ourselves.
 
 
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From the very first pages of Left on Tenth, I was caught up in the author’s journey. Moving on from loss, rediscovering love, and then fighting an illness that could do her in.

As she relates her experiences, I felt as if I were right there with her, rooting for her.

I learned more about how one can battle such an illness, and know that there might actually be a good ending to it all. She describes how a “confluence of events” seemingly came together to create her miracle treatment and her new life. Every step of the way felt just like a dream, albeit with some brutal agony along the way via the treatment, and I marveled at it all. 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: BABYSITTER, BY JOYCE CAROL OATES

In the waning days of the turbulent 1970s, in the wake of unsolved child-killings that have shocked Detroit, the lives of several residents are drawn together with tragic consequences.

There is Hannah, wife of a prominent local businessman, who has begun an affair with a darkly charismatic stranger whose identity remains elusive; Mikey, a canny street hustler who finds himself on a chilling mission to rectify injustice; and the serial killer known as Babysitter, an enigmatic and terrifying figure at the periphery of elite Detroit. As Babysitter continues his rampage of abductions and killings, these individuals intersect with one another in startling and unexpected ways.

Suspenseful, brilliantly orchestrated, and engrossing, Babysitter is a starkly narrated exploration of the riskiness of pursuing alternate lives, calling into question how far we are willing to go to protect those whom we cherish most. In its scathing indictment of corrupt politics, unexamined racism, and the enabling of sexual predation in America, Babysitter is a thrilling work of contemporary fiction.

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I alternately love and ponder the books of this author, so I was eager to try Babysitter. There are parts of the book that kept me intrigued, while other aspects felt weird and very confusing. Characters whose voices seem mysterious kept me turning the pages, however, wondering where they would lead us.

The story echoed many moments of the 1970s, though, which interested me.

Overall, I found the book too strange, although it does have the JCO flare. I was relieved for it to end. Therefore, a 3.5 rating.

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