REVIEW: INVISIBLE GIRL, BY LISA JEWELL

Owen Pick’s life is falling apart. In his thirties and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct—accusations he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel forums, where he meets a charismatic and mysterious figure.

Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family, headed by mom Cate, a physiotherapist, and dad Roan, a child psychologist. But the Fours family have a bad feeling about their neighbor Owen. He’s a bit creepy and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night.

Meanwhile, young Saffyre Maddox spent three years as a patient of Roan Fours. Feeling abandoned when their therapy ends, she searches for other ways to maintain her connection with him, following him in the shadows and learning more than she wanted to know about Roan and his family. Then, on Valentine’s night, Saffyre disappears—and the last person to see her alive is Owen Pick.

 

Invisible Girl introduces the characters in alternating sections, beginning with a young girl who likes to hide out and watch people. She is called Saffyre Maddox and she has been in therapy with another character, Roan Fours, whom she likes to follow and watch, along with his family. What is going on behind her actions, and what happens to her one night when she suddenly goes missing?

Meanwhile, we learn more about Cate, Roan’s wife, along with her teenage children, Josh and Georgia. Their lives seem normal enough, but Cate worries a lot about them and her husband Roan, who has given her reasons to mistrust him at times.

Saffyre’s story unfolds slowly, until we begin to fill in the missing pieces of what happened to her. Even as she emerges from her “invisibility,” other puzzling tidbits come to light about other characters: like Owen and his true story; about a man who hurt Saffyre years before; and about Roan’s secrets. In the end, there was a stunning reveal. 5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: FINAL CUT, BY S.J. WATSON

 

They tried to hide the truth. But the camera never lies…

Blackwood Bay. An ordinary place, home to ordinary people.

It used to be a buzzing seaside destination. But now, ravaged by the effects of dwindling tourism and economic downturn, it’s a ghost town—and the perfect place for film-maker Alex to shoot her new documentary. But the community is deeply suspicious of her intentions. After all, nothing exciting ever happens in Blackwood Bay—or does it?

When I first picked up Final Cut, I was intrigued with the opening scenes of a girl on the beach, suffering from amnesia and a mysterious past. A girl who renames herself Alex.

Years later, she is a filmmaker about to return to the scenes from the past and the strange mystery of girls who have disappeared and/or died. Is Alex one of those girls? What will she remember as she explores the events of the past, along with those in the present? What can she learn from watching clips of old films and documentaries?

Unfortunately, the story moves along so slowly that even the twists and turns don’t really keep me invested. I wanted to love this book and kept reading because I did want to know what happened. And I was glad to finally have some answers. But I can only give this book 3.5 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.***

BIG SUMMER, BY JENNIFER WEINER

Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless.

Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.

 

Big Summer opens with a prologue featuring a single mom and her young son and concludes with a cliff hanger. We see nothing more about these characters until the very end, after the culmination of some tragic events that turn the story about struggling characters searching for love into something more. It becomes a mystery.

In the first part of the book, we come to know Daphne in the present and through flashbacks of the past. Her friendship with Drue is tumultuous, with the kind of stormy episodes that, in my opinion, should have forever turned Daphne away from this so-called friend.

But when Drue begs Daphne to be in her wedding on the Cape and offers the opportunity for her to feature it on her online accounts, drawing traffic to her influencer business, Daphne cannot resist.

As the weekend winds down, Daphne is beginning to sense that more is afoot with Drue and her fiancé and with the hugely expensive wedding…and when the truth finally starts to unfold, the mystery begins.

I loved the descriptions of Daphne’s business, her thoughts and feelings about events, and how her plus-size figure challenges her constantly. Her business has boosted her self-esteem, but can she ever really dismiss how her supposed friend Drue has made her feel “less than” over the years? I couldn’t stop reading this book that carried us through issues of friendship, betrayal, loss, and finally, consequences. 5 stars.

My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE EMPTY NEST, BY SUE WATSON

 

 

Kat remembers the days when her only daughter Amy wouldn’t leave her side. Amy was the baby who cried when you walked out of the room, the toddler who was too shy to speak to strangers, the small child who clung to Kat’s legs in the school playground.

But now Amy is grown up, and Amy is gone—to university in a town several hours away. Kat’s house—which once felt too full, too noisy, too busy—is deathly quiet, and Kat awaits the daily phone call to tell her that her beloved daughter is thriving and happy.

Until the day Amy doesn’t call, sending Kat into a panic. Her husband and friends say she’s being paranoid—surely Amy is just out, having fun? But Kat feels sure something is very wrong—she knows her daughter, and she would never just disappear.

As the hours turn into days, her fears are confirmed: Amy is missing. But there are secrets about her daughter that Kat doesn’t know about yet. And the truth about Amy’s whereabouts may be closer to home than Kat could ever imagine…

 
 
 

Kat Ellis is the first-person narrator of The Empty Nest,and she is clearly overly involved in her daughter’s life, so much so that Amy’s choice to attend a university in Wales might just be a way to finally create her own life.

But then Amy goes missing. For a while, nobody believes she is really gone, blaming Kat’s overly obsessive need to control her life.

Kat’s husband Richard, best friend Zoe, and even Jodie, who is Zoe’s daughter, all seem to bend over backwards to help Kat search for Amy—once they convince themselves that she is truly gone. All along, however, there are clues, red flags, and little pieces that don’t add up.

So many red herrings kept me off track, making me suspicious of everyone. Even Richard and Amy’s biological dad Tony are persons of interest. Every time I turned another page, there were more suspects.

Then we finally learn what happened to Amy…and I didn’t see it coming. I rapidly turned pages until the hidden truth was revealed. A twisty story that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: ON TURPENTINE LANE, BY ELINOR LIPMAN

 

At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater. It’s a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiancé is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state). And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he’s Chagall.

When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence . . .

 

My Thoughts: My mood led me to On Turpentine Lane, a book that had been languishing on my Kindle, and as I turned each page with fresh delight, I knew I would be engaged throughout.

The story opens with Faith buying a charming bungalow with a lot of quirky elements, not the least of which would lead to a twisty kind of mystery involving previous residents of the home.

Mix in the delightful banter between two friends and coworkers, Faith and Nick, and you are off on a journey toward a hopeful ending.

In the beginning, Faith had a walkabout fiancé that I was pleased to watch her kick to the curb. From there, it was only a matter of time until she improved her situation. I thoroughly enjoyed how the story came together into a very satisfying denouement. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SUSPECT, BY FIONA BARTON

 

When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft, and frantic with worry. What were the girls up to before they disappeared?

Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth—and this time is no exception. But she can’t help but think of her own son, whom she hasn’t seen in two years, since he left home to go travelling.

As the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think…

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed other books by this author, including the recurring appearance of Kate Waters, the journalist. She feels like an old friend, and her first person narrative personalizes her perspective even more.

How does the addition of Kate’s own son, Jake, add to the intensity?

I liked the short chapters and the switching between parents, detectives, and journalists…giving us an emotional layer we might otherwise lose in the mix.

While the detectives, parents, and journalists are revealing their stories, we see flash backs of the girls in Thailand, and with each page, we see that danger has been lurking from the beginning.

We also see the early conflicts, primarily because Alex had been planning the trip with an old friend, Mags, who had bowed out at the last moment. The substitution of Rosie, who was not a very close friend, would turn out to be a big mistake.

Will the revelations bring peace? Or will more pain and conflict arise? A slow build that didn’t feel slow, since we moved from one set of characters to another, The Suspect held my interest throughout, while touching that emotional core as I empathized with the characters.

As the police and press shift from one suspect to another, taking many wrong turns along the way, I kept guessing, and then learning something different at the next turn. The final answers left a few loose threads…and some moral ambiguity. 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.

***

REVIEW: FRAGMENTS OF THE LOST, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

 

Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?


My Thoughts: From the beginning of Fragments of the Lost, I was drawn in by Jessa’s task to search through and box up Caleb’s belongings…after his death. And at his mother’s request.

But his mother, Eve, was someone untrustworthy with her own agenda, in my opinion. And the little girl, Mia, Caleb’s half-sister, had been fed stories about Jessa by her mother, obviously. But why?

Caleb’s secrets and his mysterious “death” seemed to hide a whole other life that might have been waiting for him. A life lost to him because of the choices of others.

As Jessa discovered each item in his room, her thoughts carried her away to moments in their relationship, and she was caught up in nostalgia. But she also realized that pieces of Caleb’s life had been hidden from her. What will she do to find her answers? Will the mysterious room behind his closet offer up a path to discovery?

The book was slow for about 2/3 of the way through. As fascinating as it was to see what each “fragment” yielded, I wanted the story to move along, taking us to whatever denouement awaited us. And I hoped that Jessa would dismiss the creepy Eve and Mia who always seemed to appear just when Jessa was on the path to a new memory. What further secrets will Jessa find as she packs up boxes and dumps the trash? Will a recent find lead to more answers? Near the end, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together, and as they did, I very happily could not stop reading as the intensity and danger grew. Despite the uneven pacing, the story did satisfy me eventually, and I liked how everything was finally resolved. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: MORAL DEFENSE, BY MARCIA CLARK

 

For defense attorney Samantha Brinkman, it’s not about guilt or innocence—it’s about making sure her clients walk.

In the follow-up to bestselling Blood Defense, Samantha is hired as the legal advocate for Cassie Sonnenberg after a brutal stabbing left the teenager’s father and brother dead, and her mother barely clinging to life. It’s a tabloid-ready case that has the nation in an uproar—and Sam facing her biggest challenge yet. Why did Cassie survive? Is she hiding something?

As Sam digs in to find the answers, she’s surprised to find herself identifying with Cassie, becoming more and more personally entangled in the case. But when Sam finally discovers the reason for that kinship, she faces a choice she never imagined she’d have to make.

My Thoughts: In the first outing with Samantha Brinkman, Blood Defense, I was drawn in by this tough but vulnerable defense attorney, and in Moral Defense, I loved finding out more about her world. From the author’s descriptions, I could visualize everything about her current life, and her past had a way of poking into her world via a client with whom she identifies.

Sam’s father Dale Pearson made himself available to her in her cases as she struggles to deal with nefarious clients and a dirty cop. But would he continue to support her when he discovers some of her less than legitimate methods?

Cassie Sonnenberg was the kind of teenage girl that made me want to roll my eyes, but I could also feel empathy for her situation as more of her story came to light.

Will Sam find enough information to help her client? Will she gather enough evidence to win the case? Or will we all be blindsided when we finally see the truth?

Midway through the book, we think we know how it all plays out…but then we are thrown a curve with an unexpected character. When that twist turns everything in a completely different direction, we get to watch how Sam makes the system work for her. A 5 star read for me.***