REVIEW: THE PUSH, BY CLAIRE MCGOWAN

 

 

The party should have been perfect: six couples from the same baby group, six newborns, a luxurious house. But not everything has gone to plan, and while some are here to celebrate, others have sorrows to drown. When someone falls from the balcony of the house, the secrets and conflicts within the group begin to spill out …

DS Alison Hegarty, herself struggling with infertility, is called in to investigate. She’s convinced the fall was not an accident, and finds the new parents have a lot to hide. Wealthy Ed and Monica show off their newborn while their teenage daughter is kept under virtual house arrest. Hazel and Cathy conceived their longed-for baby via an anonymous sperm donor—or so Hazel thinks. Anita and Jeremy planned to adopt from America, but there’s no sign of the child. Kelly, whose violent boyfriend disrupted previous group sessions, came to the party even though she lost her baby. And then there’s Jax, who’s been experiencing strange incidents for months—almost like someone’s out to get her. Is it just a difficult pregnancy? Or could it be payback for something she did in the past?

It’s a nightmare of a case, and as events get even darker it begins to look impossible. Only one thing is clear: they all have something to hide. And for one of them, it’s murder.

 
 
 

The Push zooms in on the lives of the parents in the baby group, before and after the event at the barbecue. Each time we are swept back and forth in time, we learn more hidden details. Secrets are slowly revealed. Someone is sending threatening messages to Jax, her cat disappears, and suddenly her car is inexplicably tampered with. Are all these events connected? Her boyfriend Aaron is searching for his birth mother, and strangely, an unknown person seems to be stalking them both.

What happened on that balcony, and how do the mysterious connections between several of the group members play a role in the increased tensions that came to a breaking point?

Jax was the most interesting character, and seemingly had the most to hide. But Monica, basking in her “perfection,” appeared to be the most likely one to have dark buried untruths lurking beneath that vacuous exterior. And how does her teenage daughter Chloe fit into the drama?

Additional mysterious elements include the identity of the victim for a good part of the story. Once that was unveiled, the clues fell into place for me. I knew that several characters played a role, so as events unfolded, the answers felt as simple as snapping together a puzzle. 5 stars.

 
***

REVIEW: THE TURN OF THE KEY, BY RUTH WARE

 

 

 

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the home’s cameras, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder—but somebody is.

 
 
 
 

A spooky, surreal setting that had me anxious from the very beginning, The Turn of the Key had me questioning everything that happened. From the parents to the children to the “Smart House,” this story kept me guessing until the end.

I knew that Rowan Caine had told some little lies to get the job, but she certainly didn’t deserve all the events that unfolded in that eerie house in Scotland. Or did she?

First of all, how could she be the perfect nanny in a house in the middle of nowhere, with cameras pointed at her from every room? Cameras that seemingly triggered weird sounds and strange creaks in the night?

The children were weird and sneaky, and the parents, calling from unknown places, seemed overly strange, if not nefarious.

But when some of the details of “Rowan’s” life became clear to the reader, everything intensified.

Not knowing what would happen next kept me turning the pages until the shocking end. 4.5 stars.

 
***

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: 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: JUST BETWEEN US, BY REBECCA DRAKE

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a crime and a mystery that will consume them all.

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah, compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret, the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

 

In Just Between Us, the friendship between four suburban women deepens when they believe one of them is being abused.

They step up and band together to encourage her to leave her husband and to get help. She refuses. Then one night, tragedy comes to them all as they are caught up in keeping a dreadful secret that will lead to so much more danger than any of them could have imagined.

At what cost will they keep protecting their friend? Will they discover that there is so much more to her story, and will they all finally pay the price?

So many twists along the way kept me reading and hoping for a good outcome. The story has multiple narrators, and sometimes I lost track of whose voice I was reading, but I could not put the book down. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SWAP, BY ROBYN HARDING

 

Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging…that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.


What begins as a tale of obsession and jealousy, The Swap soon becomes so much more. Is it about love gone wrong, or is it about the narcissistic actions of a woman whose own needs, desires, and destructive manipulations control the lives of those around her?

The characters were all flawed and unlikable in many ways. Jamie and Brian had some redeeming qualities, so in the end, I found myself rooting for them.

Low seemed tragically affected by her own family’s issues and seeking love in all the wrong places.

An engaging, but dark story that earned 4.5 stars from me.

***

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.

***

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.

***

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