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.

 

My Thoughts: 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.

 

My Thoughts: 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…

My Thoughts: 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.

***

REVIEW: WITHOUT A DOUBT, BY MARCIA CLARK

 

Marcia Clark takes us inside her head and her heart. Her voice is raw, incisive, disarming, unmistakable. Her story is both sweeping and deeply personal. It is the story of a woman who, when caught up in an event that galvanized an entire country, rose to that occasion with singular integrity, drive, honesty and grace.

In a case that tore America apart, and that continues to haunt us as few events of history have, Marcia Clark emerged as the only true heroine, because she stood for justice, fought the good fight, and fought it well.

 

 

My Thoughts: I eagerly approached Without a Doubt, having seen portions of the trial and the miniseries based on the trial; I have also read Marcia Clark’s mystery fiction, so I already knew that I could connect to her voice.

Her account of the trial and its preparation was presented intelligently and with a touch of personal drama, which gave her story a special appeal to me. Even as I knew how it all turned out, I was eager to watch it unfold through her revelations of the long months leading up to the verdict.

I could feel how personally affected Clark was as the defense Dream Team twisted events, focused on their conspiracy theories, and played the race card over and over. The inability of Judge Lance Ito to take control of the defense attorneys added to the frustration I felt on behalf of the prosecution attorneys. Marcia Clark wrote: “We lost because American justice is distorted by race. We lost because American justice is corrupted by celebrity. Any lawyer willing to exploit those weaknesses can convince a jury predisposed to acquittal of just about anything.” In the OJ case, “a handful of expensive attorneys were allowed to manipulate the system by invoking the wholly irrelevant, yet provocative issue of racism.”

Time has revealed the error of those touting Simpson’s innocence in that his numerous poor choices afterwards have lent credence to the guilt many believed in. A compelling book that earned 5 stars for me.

***

REVIEW: HER PRETTY FACE, BY ROBYN HARDING

 

Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.

A stay-at-home mom whose troubled son is her full-time job, she thought that the day he got accepted into the elite Forrester Academy would be the day she started living her life. Overweight, insecure, and lonely, she is desperate to fit into Forrester’s world. But after a disturbing incident at the school leads the other children and their families to ostracize the Metcalfes, she feels more alone than ever before.

Until she meets Kate Randolph.

Kate is everything Frances is not: beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and confident. And for some reason, she’s not interested in being friends with any of the other Forrester moms—only Frances. As the two bond over their disdain of the Forrester snobs and the fierce love they have for their sons, a startling secret threatens to tear them apart.

Because one of these women is not who she seems.

My Thoughts: Her Pretty Face opens with an article from 1996: a teenager was murdered in Arizona. What, if anything, connects these happenings to the current day characters?

I could empathize with Frances and how she has been ostracized by the other school moms due to something her son Marcus did. One can sense that she has had her own experiences from childhood that set her apart…if she could only talk about those events.

So when the gorgeous and wealthy Kate offers friendship, and their sons get along, which really helps Marcus begin to settle into the school, Frances feels connected and understood for the first time ever. Something had happened in her own past that led to her feelings of alienation.

In a back and forth storyline that begins to reveal more from the past events, I could see where the plot was taking us…and then was stunned by the final revelations. Daisy, Kate’s teenage daughter, gave an alternating narrative that led us to a greater understanding of the characters and their secrets, while intriguing us with more questions.

A riveting 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: WATCHING YOU, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

 

My Thoughts: From the beginning of Watching You, there is a hint of impropriety and deep dark secrets, and when the handsome and charming Tom Fitzwilliam strides through the town and seems to thrive on the attention he gets, you just know that bad things are going to happen.

The story unfolds in alternating narratives, and slipped into the story are the investigative notes of a detective who is trying to solve a murder case.

I liked that not everyone thought Tom Fitzwilliam was so perfect. Jenna’s mother seemed to have him figured out. Unfortunately, some of her ramblings made others think she was mentally ill, and perhaps she was. But that didn’t necessarily mean that her conclusions were wrong.

Then there is the young girl Jenna, and she wasn’t fooled by Tom, and red flags went up for her when she watched him.

Tom’s son Freddie is also quite the observer. He photographs his subjects, those who interest him.

What will all the watching lead to? What will each of the residents decide about Tom? Could there be secrets from the past that will be revealed in a startling way? Who is the killer and who is the victim? Just when I thought I had it figured out, the author turns it all on its head, and then I thought: But of course! 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: CROSS HER HEART, BY SARAH PINBOROUGH

 

Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job and her best friend Marilyn.

But when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him, too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go.

But when her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see, Lisa’s world explodes.

As she finds everything she has built threatened, and not knowing who she can trust, it’s up to Lisa to face her past in order to save what she holds dear.

But someone has been pulling all their strings. And that someone is determined that both Lisa and Ava must suffer.

Because long ago Lisa broke a promise. And some promises aren’t meant to be broken.

My Thoughts: From the first pages of Cross Her Heart, we can sense something that regularly niggles at Lisa, our MC. Some dark secret from the past that she has tucked away carefully, which makes her seem overly obsessive about some things. Her teenage daughter Ava resents how carefully her mother guards her, as if danger lurks.

When her dark past is revealed after photos are shown in the news, we are still not completely sure about those secrets. Throughout the story, I felt there was a lot more to the past; secrets even Lisa kept to herself back then. Some events she doesn’t even remember clearly. As we rapidly turn the pages, going back and forth in time, we learn more about what really happened all those years ago…and what someone is doing to torture Lisa in the present.

Now she must find the secret tormentor, someone she believes is out there, despite the evidence that suggests otherwise. What will Lisa do to finally put the past to rest? How will her BFF Marilyn help her?

I loved how the characters fought for the truth…and for peace with the past. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: EVEN IF IT KILLS HER, BY KATE WHITE

 

Bailey Weggins’ great new friend in college, Jillian Lowe, had everything going for her. Pretty, popular, and whip-smart, she lit up any room that she walked into. All of that dramatically changed during her sophomore year, when a neighbor became unhinged and murdered her family. Jillian immediately left school, and ever since, Bailey has felt guilty for not staying in closer contact and being a greater support to her friend.

Now, sixteen years later, Bailey is shocked to see Jillian at her book event, and even more stunned when her still-gorgeous friend approaches her with a case. The man accused of murdering her family is on the brink of being cleared of the crime through new DNA evidence. With the real killer walking free, Jillian is desperate for Bailey’s help to identify him and allow her the closure she yearns for.

As the two women return to Jillian’s childhood town to investigate, it doesn’t take long for their sleuthing to cause shock waves. Someone starts watching their every move. As they uncover deeply-guarded secrets, so shocking that they make Jillian rethink her entire relationship to her family, Bailey and Jillian find themselves in great peril. They must decide just how much they’re willing to risk to finally discover the truth about the Lowe family’s murder.

My Thoughts: Plunging into a Bailey Weggins mystery always keeps me rapidly turning pages. And in Even If It Kills Her, the story wrapped itself around me and kept holding on until the very end.

All the characters felt like real people, and as Bailey approached each one, I was alert and on guard, because who knew what secrets might provide the answers she needed.

Jillian stayed out of Bailey’s way, opening doors to the people from her past in the small town of Dory, Massachusetts…and for some reason, hung out mostly with old friends Mamie and Blake. At one point, Bailey began to sense something between Jillian and Blake that made her nervous. Was she flirting with him?

There were a lot of persons of interest for Bailey, like Bruce Korda, a former business partner to Mr. Lowe, with whom there had been tension near the end. Then there was Bruce’s stepson, Trevor, who had been fired just before the murders. Reported animosity between others in the town made for intense interactions and the building up of suspicion.

What had happened at the high school years before that might have led to the murder? Was there a big secret that could have been the tipping point? Finding the people with answers kept Bailey going, and in between there were conversations by phone with her boyfriend Beau Regan, who disapproved of her pursuit of a murderer.

At each turn, I thought I had it figured out, and as the danger increased, I waited for the final piece of the puzzle…and then I was stunned to discover the identity of the perpetrator. I hadn’t seen that coming…except when looking back, I realized that it all made sense. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SEEING RED, BY SANDRA BROWN

 

Kerra Bailey is a TV journalist hot on the trail of a story guaranteed to skyrocket her career to new heights. Twenty-five years ago, Major Franklin Trapper became a national icon when he was photographed leading a handful of survivors to safety after the bombing of a Dallas hotel. For years, he gave frequent speeches and interviews but then suddenly dropped out of the public eye, shunning all media. Now Kerra is willing to use any means necessary to get an exclusive with the Major–even if she has to secure an introduction from his estranged son, former ATF agent John Trapper.

Still seething over his break with both the ATF and his father, Trapper wants no association with the bombing or the Major. Yet Kerra’s hints that there’s more to the story rouse Trapper’s interest despite himself. And when the interview goes catastrophically awry–with unknown assailants targeting not only the Major, but also Kerra–Trapper realizes he needs her under wraps if he’s going to track down the gunmen . . . and finally discover who was responsible for the Dallas bombing.

 

My Thoughts: From the very beginning of Seeing Red, I was drawn into this layered tale full of numerous red herrings and good guys turning out to be bad guys, with many secrets only revealed at the very end.

Just when I thought I had all the bad guys figured out, another good guy would bite the dust. I must say that I was pleased with some of the so-called good guys turning bad, as smug people always annoy me.

Throughout, I loved how Trapper and Kerra worked together to find the answers, and the growing connection between them made what could have been a very grim tale lighter and more fun.

In some ways, my head was spinning because of all the dark connections, but in the end, I was smiling. My eyes were also blurring as I had to keep reading until the final denouement. 4.5 stars.

***