REVIEW: THE ARRANGEMENT, BY ROBYN HARDING

 

Natalie, a young art student in New York City, is struggling to pay her bills when a friend makes a suggestion: Why not go online and find a sugar daddy—a wealthy, older man who will pay her for dates and even give her a monthly allowance? Lots of girls do it, Nat learns. All that’s required is to look pretty and hang on his every word. Sexual favors are optional.

Though more than thirty years her senior, Gabe, a handsome corporate finance attorney, seems like the perfect candidate, and within a month, they are madly in love. At least, Nat is…Gabe already has a family, whom he has no intention of leaving.

So when he abruptly ends things, Nat can’t let go. But Gabe’s not about to let his sugar baby destroy his perfect life. What was supposed to be a mutually beneficial arrangement devolves into a nightmare of deception, obsession, and, when a body is found near Gabe’s posh Upper East Side apartment, murder.

 
 
 

From the beginning of The Arrangement, a sense of doom clouds the relationship between Nat and Gabe. What had started out as a financial matter between them becomes so much more. Especially for Nat. But for Gabe, there is an element of coldness and calculation, and I had fears that grave disaster would come for them.

Could their relationship turn into a loving one or would they each come to regret what they had started?

Unexpected twists kept me turning the pages, wondering what would happen next. A sense of darkness hovered as I kept moving toward what could only be a nightmare conclusion. Stunning events kept the pace intense throughout. 5 stars.

 
***

REVIEW: CLEAR MY NAME, BY PAULA DALY

When Carrie was accused of brutally murdering her husband’s lover, she denied it. She denied it again when they found her blood inside his house, again when they put her in front of a jury, and again when they sent her to prison. Now she’s three years into her fifteen-year sentence, gradually losing hope and separated from her pregnant daughter, but she is still maintaining her innocence.

Tess is the only paid employee of Innocence UK, a charity that helps clear people wrongfully convicted of crimes, and which accepts Carrie’s case. But can she trust Carrie? Tess is no starry-eyed recent grad―her assumption is that “they’re all lying.”

Meanwhile, Tess is also paired with Avril, a naïve young investigator-in-training, with the hope that by mentoring her, she can eventually double the group’s investigative workload. But Tess unexpectedly bolts when she’s tipped off to a witness that could possibly prove Carrie didn’t commit the crime. While Tess and Avril work the case, re-interviewing witnesses and testing assumptions made at the time of the arrest, the tension ratchets up in both the case and Tess’s personal life.

As we follow along with investigator Tess and her colleague Avril, in Clear My Name, we are taken back and forth in time to sort through the events of a murder and hopefully discover clues that will help them overturn the case against Carrie Kamara, who is in prison for the offense and suffering losses in her life because of it.

I liked Tess, who pushes hard to find what she needs to accomplish the task, even though her own past and some of her losses will suddenly insert themselves into her investigation and make her job more painful.

Just when we think Tess and her colleague have uncovered an important clue, another obstacle will appear until it sometimes seems like an impossible task to clear their client.

The intensity of their actions kept me glued to the book, hoping that they would find what they need to solve the case, even as they occasionally stepped into the path of potentially dangerous individuals.

Finally, after the case has concluded, something totally unexpected changes the course of Tess’s life forever.

I love this author’s books, so I knew I had to rapidly turn the pages until the end. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THREE PERFECT LIARS, BY HEIDI PERKS

Laura has returned to work at Morris and Wood after her maternity leave, only to discover that the woman she brought in to cover for her isn’t planning on going anywhere. Despite her close relationship with the agency’s powerful CEO, Harry Wood, she feels sidelined—and outmaneuvered—as she struggles to balance the twin demands of work and motherhood.

Mia was only supposed to be a temporary hire at Morris and Wood, but she’s managed to make herself indispensable to everyone. Everyone, that is, except Laura. If people only knew why she was so desperate to keep her job, they might not want her to stay.

Janie gave up everything to support her husband and the successful agency he runs. But she has her own dark secret to protect…and will go to any lengths to keep it safe.


As I followed along with the alternating narratives in Three Perfect Liars, I was drawn in by each of the women. I could easily see each point of view, so that I knew I would have to choose one of them by the end of the story.Or were they all equally compelling?

The story also takes us to occasional interviews with investigators, who are trying to determine the cause of a massive fire that takes out the company at the center of the tale. Back and forth we go as the timeline carries us along for a ride.

As much as I wanted to find the answers to each woman’s secrets, the story plodded along with few hints until we approached the final denouement. Who would come out the winner, or would there be none? Who started the fire and whose body was discovered? 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THIS IS HOW I LIED, BY HEATHER GUDENKAUF

Everyone has a secret they’ll do anything to hide…

Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.

For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.


From the beginning of This Is How I Lied, I was rooting for Maggie, even though there were moments along the way when she seemed to be culpable of something. Perhaps not what she thinks she has done, but at the very least, she has kept dark secrets.

Then there is Nola, and she presented as a monstrous person from the beginning. At the very least, crazy. She always seemed to be lurking, and that habit led her to listen in on conversations and present distorted truths to Maggie and others.

The story was told by multiple narrators that swept back and forth in time, and through this device, we ultimately learn the truth of what happened to Eve. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: CRIME SCENE, BY JONATHAN & JESSE KELLERMAN

Natural causes or foul play? That’s the question Clay Edison must answer each time he examines a body. Figuring out motives and chasing down suspects aren’t part of his beat—not until a seemingly open-and-shut case proves to be more than meets his highly trained eye.

Eccentric, reclusive Walter Rennert lies cold at the bottom of his stairs. At first glance the scene looks straightforward: a once-respected psychology professor, done in by booze and a bad heart. But his daughter Tatiana insists that her father has been murdered, and she persuades Clay to take a closer look at the grim facts of Rennert’s life.

What emerges is a history of scandal and violence, and an experiment gone horribly wrong that ended in the brutal murder of a coed. Walter Rennert, it appears, was a broken man—and maybe a marked one. And when Clay learns that a colleague of Rennert’s died in a nearly identical manner, he begins to question everything in the official record.

All the while, his relationship with Tatiana is evolving into something forbidden. The closer they grow, the more determined he becomes to catch her father’s killer—even if he has to overstep his bounds to do it.

The twisting trail Clay follows will lead him into the darkest corners of the human soul. It’s his job to listen to the tales the dead tell. But this time, he’s part of a story that makes his blood run cold.

It was supposed to be a simple case of accidental death; all the signs were leaning in that direction. But something about Tatiana’s plea for a closer look takes Clay Edison on a convoluted journey to places he would never have anticipated going.

There is something so appealing about a detective that goes beyond the call of duty. Who knew that all the people who kept standing in his way had their own mistakes to protect?

Of course, Clay showed himself to be an “outside the box” thinker, who sometimes came across as a rule breaker. His attitudes and behaviors made a more interesting story for me.

I liked following the clues with Clay, in Crime Scene, this fascinating tale that takes us from California’s Bay Area to Lake Tahoe.

In the end, justice is done. A 4.5 star read for me.***

REVIEW: PRETTY AS A PICTURE, BY ELIZABETH LITTLE

Marissa Dahl, a shy but successful film editor, travels to a small island off the coast of Delaware to work with the legendary—and legendarily demanding—director Tony Rees on a feature film with a familiar logline.

Some girl dies.

It’s not much to go on, but the specifics don’t concern Marissa. Whatever the script is, her job is the same. She’ll spend her days in the editing room, doing what she does best: turning pictures into stories.

But she soon discovers that on this set, nothing is as it’s supposed to be—or as it seems. There are rumors of accidents and indiscretions, of burgeoning scandals and perilous schemes. Half the crew has been fired. The other half wants to quit. Even the actors have figured out something is wrong. And no one seems to know what happened to the editor she was hired to replace.

Then she meets the intrepid and incorrigible teenage girls who are determined to solve the real-life murder that is the movie’s central subject, and before long, Marissa is drawn into the investigation herself.

The only problem is, the killer may still be on the loose. And he might not be finished.


As I slowly immersed myself in Pretty as a Picture, I was fascinated to be inside our first person narrator’s head as she showed us the world of film making from her perspective. As the film editor, Marissa had a very unique view of that world.It didn’t take long for the reader to realize that the movie making world Marissa had stumbled into would be different than usual. Something was going on, and danger was all around.

The teenage girls who sneaked around the hotel were interesting in their junior detective mode, but soon Marissa would realize they had insights that would help solve the old murder…and the dangerous things happening in the current situation.

Several red herrings kept me off guard through most of the story…but then, at the end, the culprit turned out to be almost too obvious to be true. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: ONE LITTLE SECRET, BY CATE HOLAHAN

 

Everyone has a secret. For some, it’s worth dying to protect. For others, it’s worth killing.

The glass beach house was supposed to be the getaway that Susan needed. Eager to help her transplanted family set down roots in their new town—and desperate for some kid-free conversation—she invites her new neighbors to join in on a week-long sublet with her and her workaholic husband.

Over the course of the first evening, liquor loosens inhibitions and lips. The three couples begin picking up on the others’ marital tensions and work frustrations, as well as revealing their own. But someone says too much. And the next morning one of the women is discovered dead on the private beach.

Town detective Gabby Watkins must figure out who permanently silenced the deceased. As she investigates, she learns that everyone in the glass house was hiding something that could tie them to the murder, and that the biggest secrets of all are often in plain sight for anyone willing to look.

As the couples gather in the beach house, prepared to enjoy their getaway, it isn’t long until their lives are upended by the murder of one of them.

Alternating narrators tell the stories in One Little Secret: from Gabby, the detective, working on a sexual assault case and now a murder, to the individual spouses who have to hide their secrets.

I felt such compassion for Jenny, whose abusive husband has a lot to protect, as well. And then Susan must cover for her husband, just in case he has more to hide than she knows.

Going back and forth between the story tellers and what they each stood to lose, I was unable to accurately figure out who had done the final deeds. A 4.5 star read.

***

REVIEW: TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE, BY SUSAN ISAACS

 

Just a few years ago, Corie Geller was busting terrorists as an agent for the FBI. But at thirty-five, she traded in her badge for the stability of marriage and motherhood. Now Corie is married to the brilliant and remarkably handsome Judge Josh Geller and is the adoptive mother of his lovely 14-year-old daughter. Between cooking meals and playing chauffeur, Corie scouts Arabic fiction for a few literary agencies and, on Wednesdays, has lunch with her fellow Shorehaven freelancers at a so-so French restaurant. Life is, as they say, fine.

But at her weekly lunches, Corie senses that something’s off. Pete Delaney, a milquetoast package designer, always shows up early, sits in the same spot (often with a different phone in hand), and keeps one eye on the Jeep he parks in the lot across the street. Corie intuitively feels that Pete is hiding something—and as someone who is accustomed to keeping her FBI past from her new neighbors, she should know. But does Pete really have a shady alternate life, or is Corie just imagining things, desperate to add some spark to her humdrum suburban existence? She decides that the only way to find out is to dust off her FBI toolkit and take a deep dive into Pete Delaney’s affairs.

 

I enjoyed the interesting thought processes of our first-person narrator, Corie; I also liked how she was able to hide her history with the FBI and seemingly settle into suburban life.

We follow along as her fascination with Pete Delaney became an obsession, but she very skillfully wended her way through the trail that ultimately led to answers.

Before the fast-paced culmination of Takes One To Know One, the story was a little bit tedious, but because I enjoy the author and also liked the character of Corie, I kept plugging away. In the end, I was biting my nails as the intensity ratcheted up exponentially. This one earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NANNY, BY GILLY MACMILLAN

 

When her beloved nanny, Hannah, left without a trace in the summer of 1988, seven-year-old Jocelyn Holt was devastated. Haunted by the loss, Jo grew up bitter and distant, and eventually left her parents and Lake Hall, their faded aristocratic home, behind.

Thirty years later, Jo returns to the house and is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her mother. But when human remains are accidentally uncovered in a lake on the estate, Jo begins to question everything she thought she knew.

Then an unexpected visitor knocks on the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again. Desperate to piece together the gaping holes in her memory, Jo must uncover who her nanny really was, why she left, and if she can trust her own mother…

Alternating narrators and flip-flops between the past and present take us on our journey in The Nanny. Just when we think we’ve figured out who to believe, or who is the most reliable narrator, one of them adds a twist to the stories they tell, offering another dimension. Soon we don’t know who, if anyone, to trust.

As we follow the paths exposed by each character, we learn more and more of their secrets. In the end, will the darkest secrets tell us who we can trust and who to avoid?

I enjoyed traipsing along with the characters, guessing about what we will learn next. By the time we turn the final pages, we will be stunned by how the tale concludes. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE STRANGER INSIDE, BY LISA UNGER

 

Even good people are drawn to do evil things … Twelve-year-old Rain Winter narrowly escaped an abduction while walking to a friend’s house. Her two best friends, Tess and Hank, were not as lucky. Tess never came home, and Hank was held in captivity before managing to escape. Their abductor was sent to prison but years later was released. Then someone delivered real justice–and killed him in cold blood.

Now Rain is living the perfect suburban life, her dark childhood buried deep. She spends her days as a stay-at-home mom, having put aside her career as a hard-hitting journalist to care for her infant daughter. But when another brutal murderer who escaped justice is found dead, Rain is unexpectedly drawn into the case. Eerie similarities to the murder of her friends’ abductor force Rain to revisit memories she’s worked hard to leave behind. Is there a vigilante at work? Who is the next target? Why can’t Rain just let it go?

My Thoughts: Alternating narrators tell the story of The Stranger Inside. We follow Hank, Lara (Rain), and Tess, from their childhood moments and beyond the tragedy of their young lives.

Hank’s perspective is interesting, in that he seemingly speaks to “Lara” as he tells his story, a chronicle of his adult life as a therapist in conflict with the dark part he hides inside. We watch as Rain combines marriage and motherhood while reclaiming a part of her story and her trauma as she resumes her career as a journalist.

What is the connection between their horrific past and the sudden murders of perpetrators around them? Are they involved somehow? As the story draws to a conclusion, there are still unanswered questions, and we wonder if the darkness ever subsides. A page turner that earned 5 stars.

***