REVIEW: THE PAYING GUESTS, BY SARAH WATERS

81nguZwnLpL._SL1500_

It is 1922, and times are tough for the residents of this formerly well-off village of Camberwell, in England. A Champion Hill estate was once a place to celebrate, with hired help taken for granted.

But now, Frances Wray and her aging mother Emily are struggling, and despite the embarrassment, they decide to take in boarders.

I could feel the squeamishness of Frances as she and her mother greet Len and Lilian Barber, from the “clerk” class, and in the subsequent days, I could relate to her irritation with their behaviors (Len is loud, with a tendency toward suggestive innuendo), and Lilian seems spoiled (taking long baths in the middle of the day).

Slowly The Paying Guests unfolds, and we gradually come to see a slight shift. When did it happen? When was Frances first drawn to Lilian? And how did she succumb to long-forgotten passions?

Secrets, lies, and horrifying danger cloud the pages and reveal much. Everything speeds up quickly after something terrible happens, and we are left wondering if the dangerous secrets that Frances and Lilian share will cause their lives to unravel. Did Lilian have a hidden motive all along? Was Frances her prey? Or is there more to the story?

The ending brought about few surprises, and left things up in the air for some of the characters. I loved how the writer captured my interest and kept me turning those pages. Recommended for all who enjoy stories about secrets, lies, and betrayal. 5.0 stars.

BENEATH THE SURFACE LIES THE TRUTH: A REVIEW

91KgHgAGw0L._SL1500_

In the middle of the Twentieth Century, in a small town near Boston, Ava Lark and her young son Lewis stand out like a sore thumb. For in 1956, people in white bread communities like this one look askance at single mothers, especially single DIVORCED mothers, and to top it off, Ava is also Jewish.

Across the street, Dot, with two young children, Rose and Jimmy, is also a single mom, but she is a widow. This fact elevates her status in the community. Just a bit.

The three children of the two single moms are best friends, and in this supposedly safe neighborhood, they are often unsupervised for periods of time.

One hot day in April, tragedy strikes. And young Jimmy goes missing.

What happens afterwards will affect all of their lives for decades, and the mystery will linger, even as lives go on in some fashion. Ava struggles to earn her way and to keep her ex-husband from taking custody of their son. But Dot isolates herself more and more and while Rose and Lewis cling to one another, there are subtle changes in their relationship. Fear, guilt, secrets…all of these emotions color everything between them.

Fast forward a few years and we see lives changing. Lewis has moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and Ava discovers a new passion. But underneath the surface, they are all marked and damaged by the events of that April.

What will happen when a startling discovery is made in the once-peaceful community? Will answers be forthcoming? And how will the unveiling of one secret change things? Or will each revelation lead to more questions? Can anything ever be normal again? Or was it ever?

The shifting narrative and time periods reveal snippets of the lives of Ava, Lewis, and Rose, Slowly the puzzle pieces begin to fit together until the picture is complete. Meanwhile, the characters and the settings are richly drawn as the reader is transported back to those times. Those times depicted in the media as peaceful were anything but, and always hovering nearby were the fears and paranoia: nuclear war, Communism, and the stigma placed on those who were different. Beneath the surface, nothing is perfect or as it seems. Is This Tomorrow: A Novel is a hauntingly poignant read. Five stars.