REVIEW: DEAD LETTERS, BY CAITE DOLAN-LEACH

Ava has her reasons for running away to Paris. But when she receives the shocking news that her twin sister, Zelda, is dead, she is forced to return home to her family’s failing vineyard in upstate New York. Knowing Zelda’s penchant for tricks and deception, Ava is not surprised when she receives her twin’s cryptic message from beyond the grave. Following her sister’s trail of clues, Ava immerses herself in Zelda’s drama and her outlandish circle of friends and lovers, and soon finds herself confronted with dark family legacies and twisted relationships. Is Zelda trying to punish Ava for leaving? Or is she simply trying to write her own ending? Caite Dolan-Leach’s debut thriller is a literary scavenger hunt for secrets hidden everywhere from wine country to social media, and buried at the dysfunctional heart of one utterly unforgettable family.

Dead Letters begins with some background into the lives of the twins, Ava and Zelda, and how they were named. We learn that Ava has received a notification of Zelda’s presumed death in a fire. Soon we begin seeing a series of letters from Zelda to Ava, dated a few years before…and then the letters start coming from the present. Is Zelda still alive? And if so, what kind of game is she playing.

The story slips between the past and the present, and we slowly learn more about the dysfunctional Antipova family. Dementia and addiction seem to have marked them, but the most notable relationships are those between the twins. They were close, but their relationship was marred by the games they played.

What will eventually reveal itself? Will Ava return to Paris and the life she was building there, or will she settle for adjusting to her life as part of the family?

Just when I thought that I had figured out Zelda’s game, everything turned upside down and we were forced to accept some stunning truths. I enjoyed the characters and trying to sort through the puzzle pieces, but parts of it dragged on too long for my taste. The writing was great, however, and earned 4 stars from me.

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REVIEW: YOU CAN’T CATCH ME, BY CATHERINE MCKENZIE

Twelve years ago Jessica Williams escaped a cult. Thanks to the private detective who rescued her, she reintegrated into society, endured an uncomfortable notoriety, and tried to put it all behind her. Then, at an airport bar, Jessica meets a woman with an identical name and birth date. It appears to be just an odd coincidence—until a week later, when Jessica finds her bank account drained and her personal information stolen.

Following a trail of the grifter’s victims, each with the same name, Jessica gathers players—one by one—for her own game. According to her plan, they’ll set a trap and wait for the impostor to strike again. But plans can go awry, and trust can fray, and as Jessica tries to escape the shadows of her childhood, the risks are greater than she imagined. Now, confronting the casualties of her past, Jessica can’t help but wonder…

Who will pay the price?

 

You Can’t Catch Me is a cat and mouse game that kept me hooked from the beginning. Just when I thought I knew how it would all play out, I was fooled.

I especially enjoyed the first- person voice of Jessica, as she shares the story of her childhood and the horrific cult to which her parents brought her.

Liam was her rescuer, who helped her escape just when everything was turning especially dark. He was also there for her when other events unfolded. She had come to count on him. But there are many secrets she is keeping.

All the Jessicas were a few steps too far, but it was fun to watch our Original Jessica as she tried to catch the grifter she called Jessica Two.

But what has Jessica One been hiding? What unexpected secrets will be revealed at the end? A brilliant five star read.

***

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.

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REVIEW: THE DILEMMA, BY B.A. PARIS

It’s Livia’s 40th birthday, and her husband Adam is throwing her the party of a lifetime to make up for the wedding they never had. Everyone she loves will be there, except her daughter Marnie, who’s studying abroad. But Livia is secretly glad Marnie won’t be there.

Livia has recently uncovered a secret about their daughter which, if revealed, will shake the foundation of their family to its core. She needs to tell Adam, but she’s waiting until the party is over so they can have this last happy time together.

Adam, meanwhile, has his own surprise for Livia: he’s arranged for Marnie to secretly fly back for the party. But before Marnie arrives, Adam hears some terrible news. Now he too is faced with a dilemma: Does he share what he’s learned with his wife? Is hiding the truth the same as telling a lie? And how far are Adam and Livia willing to go to protect the ones they love—and give each other a last few hours of happiness?


What a convoluted tale of secrets and good intentions that started out simply enough but then turned complex and wrong by the end. The Dilemma is all about the numerous conundrums in a marriage that can keep a couple off balance and turn their lives upside down.

When Livia and Adam each keep their secrets for their own reasons, perhaps to protect the other person, they are risking the delicate balance of their lives and their family.

The story is told alternately by Livia and Adam, and the intensity builds up as we draw closer to the final denouement and learn what price they will all have to pay for their moments of deception. An emotional read that kept me turning the pages. 4 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

REVIEW: THE NEW GIRL, BY HARRIET WALKER

Glamorous Margot Jones is the fashion editor at glossy magazine Haute. Pregnant with her first child, Margot’s carefully curated life is the object of other women’s envy—who wouldn’t want her successful career, loving husband, beautiful house, and stylish wardrobe?

Maggie, a freelance journalist, certainly knows she doesn’t measure up. But when she gets the temp job covering Margot’s maternity leave, Maggie seizes the chance to live a flashier life—even if it’s only for a few months.

But the simultaneous arrival of Margot’s baby and a brutal end to her oldest friendship sends Margot into a spiral of insecurity and suspicion; normal preoccupations of new motherhood turn into dark and frightening paranoia. Who is the vicious online troll mocking Margot’s facade of perfection and threatening to expose a dark secret she’s spent years concealing? Are Maggie’s newfound ambitions and plucky enthusiasm as innocent as they seem? And what happens when Margot is ready to return to her old life—especially if Maggie doesn’t want to leave?

The themes in The New Girl take us on several different journeys. We first see, from Margot’s point of view, how Maggie, “the new girl” who is filling her position as fashion editor while she is on maternity leave, seems to be taking over her life completely. How does Maggie insert herself into Margot’s personal as well as her professional life, including taking over Margot’s past connections?

Winnie’s narrative takes us back to the past, to the beginning of her friendship with Margot, interrupted by another “new girl” when Helen appears and succeeds in sidelining Margot in the friendship. Then we watch as Winnie begins to view herself as a “new girl” when her relationship with Helen changes her into a different person. But then it takes a dangerous turn.

What secrets are holding Winnie and Margot together? How does Maggie’s intrusion change everything for them all? Is Margot paranoid about what is happening, or is something completely different afoot?

Just when I thought I had it all figured out, the conclusion brought stunning and unexpected revelations. An unputdownable book that earned 4.5 stars.

My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

***

REVIEW: THE DAUGHTER, BY JANE SHEMILT

Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.

But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.

As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.

Alternating narratives take the reader through the past and the present in The Daughter. Jenny struggles to move beyond what has happened to her daughter, but she is unable to do so. Thoughts of her relationship with Naomi and those last fateful days before her daughter disappeared seem to consume her.

She spends her time in the family cottage, isolated, but slowly she begins to reach out to others. Helping an ailing neighbor next door reminds her of her nurturing qualities and what is missing in her life, offering an alternative to focusing on her loss.

As the story continues, we start uncovering more pieces to the puzzle of Naomi’s disappearance, and see beneath the perfect exterior of the characters’ lives. Lies, secrets, and unexpected events kept me reading, although I felt frustrated by the slow unwinding of a tome that could have kept me glued to the pages. 4 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 NIGHT VISITORS, BY CAROL GOODMAN

 

ALICE gets off a bus in the middle of a snowstorm in Delphi, NY. She is fleeing an abusive relationship and desperate to protect…

OREN, ten years old, a major Star Wars fan and wise beyond his years. Though Alice is wary, Oren bonds nearly instantly with…

MATTIE, a social worker in her fifties who lives in an enormous run-down house in the middle of the woods. Mattie lives alone and is always available, and so she is the person the hotline always calls when they need a late-night pickup. And although according to protocol Mattie should take Alice and Oren to a local shelter, instead she brings them home for the night. She has plenty of room, she says. What she doesn’t say is that Oren reminds her of her little brother, who died thirty years ago at the age of ten.

But Mattie isn’t the only one withholding elements of the truth. Alice is keeping her own secrets. And as the snowstorm worsens around them, each woman’s past will prove itself unburied, stirring up threats both within and without.

My Thoughts: I was immediately swept up into the drama of The Night Visitors as Alice and Oren get off the bus and are pulled into the unknown life ahead of them. Fleeing abuse, but not sure who they can trust, Alice braces herself against the challenges ahead.

Alice and Mattie’s stories are told in alternating narratives, and we learn more about their lives and their experiences as their stories unfold.

I could relate to Mattie, having had a career in social work. Her own family life was full of secrets and dark judgments, so I could empathize with how she had struggled.

Alice’s secrets brought darkness into their new lives, and because she wasn’t sure if she could trust Mattie, she almost lost the opportunity to accept the good offered to her.

Mysteries seemed to lurk in the old Victorian house where Mattie offers refuge, and I liked the “ghostly elements” in the story. In the end, I was happy that many of the issues were resolved for the characters. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HER ONE MISTAKE, BY HEIDI PERKS

 

Charlotte was supposed to be looking after the children, and she swears she was. She only took her eyes off of them for one second. But when her three kids are all safe and sound at the school fair, and Alice, her best friend Harriet’s daughter, is nowhere to be found, Charlotte panics. Frantically searching everywhere, Charlotte knows she must find the courage to tell Harriet that her beloved only child is missing. And admit that she has only herself to blame.

Harriet, devastated by this unthinkable, unbearable loss, can no longer bring herself to speak to Charlotte again, much less trust her. Now more isolated than ever and struggling to keep her marriage afloat, Harriet believes nothing and no one. But as the police bear down on both women trying to piece together the puzzle of what happened to this little girl, dark secrets begin to surface—and Harriet discovers that confiding in Charlotte again may be the only thing that will reunite her with her daughter….

My Thoughts: What a whirlwind ride! Her One Mistake begins  as a lost child scenario, but as alternating narrators reveal more of the story, we see that the players in this layered and deceptive drama are not who they seem to be.

Harriet and Brian caught my interest early on, as there was something very odd about their dynamic. While townsfolk, along with the media, point a finger at Charlotte, they should be paying attention to the two of them.

As the story unfolds, I must stop the revelations, to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say you will hang on tight throughout this breathless ride…and you will not be disappointed. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FAMILY AT NO. 13, BY S.D. MONAGHAN

 

Mary has everything. Beautiful and rich, she lives on an exclusive street in the heart of the city, in a house with gorgeous views and an immaculately maintained garden. Her life looks perfect.

But behind closed doors the truth is very different. Her husband Andrew barely speaks to her, spending his days down in the basement alone. Her teenage nephew is full of rage, lashing out with no warning. Her carefully constructed life is beginning to fall apart.

And then someone starts sending Mary anonymous notes, threatening her and her family…

Everyone has secrets. But is someone at number 13 hiding something that could put the whole family in danger?

 

My Thoughts: Connor is one of the first characters we meet in The Family at No. 13. He is a therapist trying to live and work in a building that has many issues, so when he is offered a bungalow in a nice neighborhood, he thinks everything will be great.

But nothing is as it seems in the new neighborhood, beginning with the fact that a patient he just discharged lives right down the street, and the people next door have a horrific teenage boy living with them. A rage-filled boy who relishes bouncing loudly up and down on a trampoline and torturing animals.

Alternating narrators tell the stories of the neighborhood. Mary’s voice is a first-person look into her life and her experiences. We later learn the story of the boy, Finbarr, which does offer a more compassionate perspective, but does not make him any more likable.

What are the secrets that are dictating the lives of the neighbors, and how will Connor deal with the new life he has chosen? What convoluted events will turn the neighborhood upside down and change the lives of the residents? 4.5

***