The Boy at the Door by Alex Dahl

Book Description:

Published: July 24, 2018

Format: Audio/OverDrive

Stars: 5

This riveting psychological suspense debut by Alex Dahl asks the question, “how far would you go to hold on to what you have?”

Cecilia Wilborg has it all–a loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a gorgeous home in an affluent Norwegian suburb. And she works hard to keep it all together. Too hard…

There is no room for mistakes in her life. Even taking home a little boy whose parents forgot to pick him up at the pool can put a crimp in Cecilia’s carefully planned schedule. Especially when she arrives at the address she was given
and finds an empty, abandoned house…

There’s nothing for Cecilia to do but to take the boy home with her, never realizing that soon his quiet presence and knowing eyes will trigger unwelcome memories from her past–and unravel her meticulously crafted life…

Review –

Cecilia Wilborg is living a dream life in the small, exclusive, and privileged town of Sandefjord Norway. With a kind and loving husband, two daughters, and a beautiful home, her life is one many would envy. Behind Cecilia’s mirage of wealth and happiness, is a women hanging on by a thread and weighed down by secrets. Secrets that could shatter her entire life and she has worked hard to maintain her secrets.

One evening while attending one of her daughter’s swim meets, Cecilia is asked to take a little boy,Tobias, home. It appears Tobias’ parents have forgotten to pick him up from the pool. When Cecilia arrives at Tobias’ home, no one is there and the house has been abandoned. She takes Tobias home with her and she very quickly becomes unsettled. Although Tobias is just a little boy, eight years old, he seems to see through her facade of the happy mother and wife. Tobias’ arrival at the Wilborg home sets in motion a series of events which could unravel Cecilia’s carefully crafted world. 

Cecilia Wilborg is a complicated character. I did not really decide how I felt about her until the very end of the story. The lies she tells and secrets she keeps are all to maintain her lifestyle, the money, the beautiful house, and her sweet caring husband. However in my opinion what she values most is her ability to make others envy her and her image. After she tells a lie or does something questionable she then attempts to validate or justify her actions. She does this with the sole concern of what others will think. Cecilia’s main objective is to control the way others perceive her and this makes her unlikable. 

The author uses diary entries to introduce readers to Anni, a drug addicted and troubled woman who has the power to tear apart Cecilia’s life. For me the most compelling element of the book was the wait to find out how Cecilia and Anni’s worlds collide. This aspect makes The Boy at the Door a story of suspense and so much more.

The descriptions of Anni’s struggle with addiction are the most human and realistic of any book I have ever read in which drug abuse is discussed. Dahl depicts Anni as a person rather than an addict. The author displays sympathy and gives Anni a fairly normal childhood but places obstacles in her life with which I could relate. Many times I found myself wondering what I would do in Anni’s situation. I could clearly see how Anni managed to trap herself in a cycle of abuse and addiction, as well as how easy it can be to find yourself in a very bad situation. 

Alex Dahl has created a gripping and murky story which will take readers on an emotional roller coaster. The Boy at the Door has a strong sense of foreboding that will hook readers from the first page.  Just when you think Cecilia is home free something happens and it’s like the world is ending. the ending will squeeze the heart out of your chest! (You may need Kleenex, I did!)

Fans of Alice Feeney and Fiona Barton should add The Boy at the Door to their list of must reads.

Fantastic read!

 

The Neighbors by Hannah Mary McKinnon

Book Description:

Published: March 13, 2018

Format: Audio/OverDrive

Stars: 5

In 1992, a car accident kills a young man and forever changes the lives of three people… Now, twenty years later, they’ll all come to regret the choices they made that day, as the secrets and lies they’ve told to protect each other become the very things that tear their lives apart.

After a night of fun, Abby was responsible for the car crash that killed her beloved brother. It is a sin she can never forgive herself for, so she pushes away the man she loves most, knowing that he would eventually hate her for what she’s done, the same way she hates herself.

Twenty years later, Abby’s husband, Nate, is also living with a deep sense of guilt. He was the driver who first came upon the scene of Abby’s accident, the man who pulled her to safety before the car erupted in flames, the man who could not save her brother in time. It’s this guilt, this regret that binds them together. They understand each other. Or so Nate believes.

In a strange twist of fate, Liam (her old lover—possibly her true soulmate) moves in with his own family next door, releasing a flood of memories that Abby has been trying to keep buried all these years. Abby and Liam, in a complicit agreement, pretend never to have met, yet cannot resist the pull of the past—nor the repercussions of the dark secrets they’ve both been carrying…

Review –

The title alone had me intrigued. However, I was taken completely by surprise by this story. I never would have guessed how things would evolve – or where it would end up.

In 1992 Abby and her brother, Tom,  were involved in a fiery car crash. Abby survived, thanks to Nate, the man who stopped to help and the man she would eventually marry. But, Abby’s brother did not survive, and Abby has never forgiven herself.

Fast forward to present day- Abby and Nate are happily married with a teenage daughter. But, their lives slowly begin to unravel when the new neighbors move in. In an unbelievable twist of irony or fate, Abby’s former fiancé, Liam, his wife and teenage son move in right next door, which opens up a Pandoras box of unrequited feelings, jealousy, manipulations, and the manifestations of dark secrets, that once revealed will change their lives forever…

This story has a Gothic tone to it. No, there are no Cornish cliffs or spooky mansions, but the family connections and stunning secrets that reveal themselves little by little, certainly creates that atmosphere, and that ending just put the cherry on the cake.

This is a wicked story, packed with twists, although I suspected a few of them beforehand, the revelations were no less dramatic. The tangled web is woven so expertly, the characters will never be able to completely free themselves from it. It is hard to say who is guilty, who in innocent, or who was corrupted the most by all the denials, lies, and secrets. I was invested in the book right from the start and didn’t stop listening until it was done. Secrets and lies, the repercussions and the fallout, never fails to hold my rapt attention.

This is very well constructed novel, original, highly suspenseful, and utterly absorbing and will leave you with your mouth hanging wide open.

Highly, highly recommend !

 

The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli

Book Description:

Published: October 31, 2019

Format: Audio/OverDrive

Stars: 4

She’s a liar. She’s a stalker. She’s in your house.

When Claire sees Hannah Wilson at an exclusive Manhattan hair salon, it’s like a knife slicing through barely healed scars. It may have been ten years since Claire last saw Hannah, but she has thought of her every day, and not in a good way. So Claire does what anyone would do in her position—she stalks her.

Hannah is now Mrs. Carter, living the charmed life that should have been Claire’s. It’s the life Claire used to have, before Hannah came along and took it all away from her.

Back then, Claire was a happy teenager with porcelain skin and long, wavy blond hair. Now she’s an overweight, lazy drunk with hair the color of compost and skin to match. Which is why when Hannah advertises for a housekeeper, Claire is confident she can apply and not be recognized. And since she has time on her hands, revenge on her mind, and a talent for acting…

Because what better way to seek retribution—and redress—than from within the beautiful Mrs. Hannah Carter’s own home?

Except that it’s not just Claire who has secrets. Everyone in that house seems to have something to hide.

And now, there’s no way out.

Review –

The blurb of The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli really doesn’t do the book justice.

Quite honestly, it is quite the roller coaster ride.

The moment you’re sure you have it figured out, it flips around again.

Part of the reason the author is able to do this so successfully is because Claire is the poster child for the unreliable narrator. From the get-go, she makes it clear all she does is lie. (and I hate her through 95% of the book)

So, how do you know what’s real or not? That is the problem.

The other thing I liked about The Housekeeper is the definite character arc. Claire is in a completely different place at the end than she was at the beginning, and I enjoyed watching that shift. Sometimes in psychological thrillers, there isn’t much character development; the focus is more on the plot, so none of the characters really change. 

This book gets off to a slow start. Claire is not a likeable character, so I wasn’t thrilled to keep hearing about how she’s a pathetic loser, all because of Hannah. I wanted to tell Claire to wash her hair and put on her big girl panties. But I stuck with it to see what lengths she would go to to exact revenge. Turns out, pretty far, including taking a job as Hannah’s housekeeper.


The plot is not at all believable. You have to be willing to accept a lot of coincidental plot points. And call me crazy, but wouldn’t Hannah notice earlier that Claire isn’t really cleaning the house? I can tell when my house hasn’t been dusted for a week.
The tale spins on two unreliable narrators. Clare, of course, and Hannah, from entries in her diary. Barelli does a good job of keeping us off balance not knowing which of them is telling the truth.

Then comes the plot twist and the ending no one sees coming.

Loved it.

Family Pictures by Jane Green

Book Description:

Published: March 19, 2013

Format: Audio/OverDrive

Stars: 4

NY Times bestseller Jane Green delivers a riveting novel about two women whose lives intersect when a shocking secret is revealed.

From the author of Another Piece of My Heart comes the gripping story of two women who live on opposite coasts but whose lives are connected in ways they never could have imagined. Both women are wives and mothers to children who are about to leave the nest for school. They’re both in their forties and have husbands who travel more than either of them would like. They are both feeling an emptiness neither had expected. But when a shocking secret is exposed, their lives are blown apart. As dark truths from the past reveal themselves, will these two women be able to learn to forgive, for the sake of their children, if not for themselves?

Review –

This book had it all – family drama, anorexia, verbal abuse, empty nest syndrome, bigamy, public shame, etc. – and then some.  I swear, when it seemed like people were finally making progress a new setback would rear its ugly head and bring everything crashing down once again.  It was crazy and was like listening to a LIFETIME movie!

Right away I knew the premise of the story , but the double life of a**hole husband was only the beginning. The real story was of the survival of the two, now broken, families and the happy ending they deserved.

Excellent read!

Sunburn by Laura Lippman

Book Description:

Published: February 20, 2018

Format: Audio/OverDrive

Stars: 4

One is playing a long game. But which one?

They meet at a local tavern in the small town of Belleville, Delaware. Polly is set on heading west. Adam says he’s also passing through.

Yet she stays and he stays—drawn to this mysterious redhead whose quiet stillness both unnerves and excites him. Over the course of a punishing summer, Polly and Adam abandon themselves to a steamy, inexorable affair. Still, each holds something back from the other—dangerous, even lethal, secrets that begin to accumulate as autumn approaches, feeding the growing doubts they conceal.

Then someone dies. Was it an accident, or part of a plan? By now, Adam and Polly are so ensnared in each other’s lives and lies that neither one knows how to get away—or even if they want to. Is their love strong enough to withstand the truth, or will it ultimately destroy them?

Something—or someone—has to give.

Which one will it be?

Review –

A redheaded waitress, a good-looking private eye, insurance fraud, arson, rough sex, and a long hot summer: some like it noir.

With her twenty-third novel the author  pays tribute to a literary predecessor who, like her, began his study of crime as a journalist at the Baltimore Sun—James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce. Lippman’s version of the sexy stranger passing through town starts with Polly Costello (that’s one of her names, anyway) on a beach vacation in Fenwick, Delaware, with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Jani. One morning she says she needs a break from the sun, then grabs her duffel and heads down the road. “What kind of woman walks out on her family? Gregg knows. The kind of woman he picked up in a bar four years ago precisely because she had that kind of wildcat energy.…She scratched, she bit, she was up for anything, anywhere, anytime.” Actually, poor Gregg, suddenly a single dad, doesn’t know the half of it. Someone who does have a much fuller picture of Polly’s background is Adam, a good-looking, Oberlin- and culinary-institute–educated fellow she runs into at a bar her first day on the lam. Neither Adam nor Polly is candid about what has brought them to stools at the High-Ho, but both stick around and get jobs there, as chef and waitress. By the time their connection in the bedroom blossoms into something more serious, the skeletons in the closet have been joined by fresh new ones. Lippman’s trademark is populating a whodunit with characters so believably complicated that they don’t need the mystery to carry the book. If that’s not quite the case here, you can tell how much fun the author had updating the classic noir tropes, and it’s contagious.

This is a page-turning pleasure, if you’re not listening like me, plus instructions on how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich and how to stab a man in the heart.

This was a fantastic read that will keep you asking, “What the hell is going on?”

 

 

 

My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing

BookDescription:

Published: March 26, 2019

Format: Audio/OverDrive

Stars: 5

A couple’s fifteen-year marriage has finally gotten too interesting…

Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We’re your neighbors, the parents of your kid’s friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.

Review –

 My Lovely Wife is a  psychological thriller that will grip you from beginning to end. With its short chapters, you’ll fly through this novel, and be rewarded with a fun, clever and twisted domestic thriller!

What puts this novel apart from others in its genre is the narration, so often the women/wife is the narrator but here, the story is told solely from the husband’s perspective and this worked really well for several reasons. Firstly, it paints the female as the villain which is not something we see often, not that the husband is squeaky clean – given that they’re a couple who engage in some very dark extra-curricular activities! All we know about the wife, Millicent, is through the eyes of her husband; taking away the wife’s perspective allows you to form your own ideas of what she’s like, and this is actually what makes you invested in this the plot because it makes it hard to guess what she will do next because you never get to know her personally.

The plot then doesn’t become too weighed down by the character’s pasts, it is very much a ‘present day’ novel, allowing you to get swept up in all ‘the crazy’ and boy does it get crazy – but in such a clever way!

You can see the author had a vision for this book, and based on my reading experience, it was well executed! I really enjoyed the writing style, the way the husband phrased certain things gave you an understanding of his nature, and who’s in control, without the need for excessive descriptive detail – this added to the ‘present day’ feeling, and kept the momentum of the plot going strong from beginning to end.

The couple’s children, Rory and Jenna, also play a significant role in the plot, which shows how the actions of the parents, despite them thinking their activities were kept secret, impact the children. Rory wasn’t the most likeable, but I don’t think he was meant to be, but he was, more importantly, a typical teenager, who acted in a believable way, giving the plot more validity. He and Jenna played a role in the direction of this plot and this was great in showcasing the family dynamics.

Did I figure out the plot, nope! Was I entertained, yep! My Lovely Wife is an addictive read, you’ll change your opinions of characters along the way, and be engaged in all that occurs – this is definitely a psychological thriller I highly recommend!

 

 

 

 

Stranger in the Lake by Kimberly Belle

Book Description:

Published: June 9, 2020

Format: Audio/Scribd

Stars: 4

When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.

At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.

As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.

Review –

Charlotte, the narrator of this well-paced novel set in Lake Crosby, N.C., from author, Kimberly Belle, was raised in poverty, but she has achieved her dream of a better life by marrying Paul Keller, the richest man in the Appalachian tourist town of Lake Crosby, N.C., despite the local gossip that Paul drowned his first wife four years earlier.

Then one day she’s disturbed to spot a nervous-looking Paul talking to a strange woman. The next day, Charlotte finds the woman’s body floating under their lakefront dock, just like Paul’s first wife. When shown the body, Paul tells the police he’s never seen the woman. He later takes off without telling anyone where he’s going. Frightened and confused, Charlotte turns to Paul’s two best friends for support, one the town crazy, the other the police chief’s son, both with dark secrets of their own. Belle weaves an intricate web of connections among the characters as the action moves toward the surprising ending. 

This story had intrigue and mystery from the start. I loved the instant suspense of the gossip-inducing relationship and then the first crime right off the top. While Charlotte’s character is not universally loved in their small town, I happened to like her. She handled herself very well with all the drama and her character was one that was inspiring on how she tried to be loyal to those around her and strong willed to get through everything.

While I did guess the killer about two thirds through the listen, how it all played out was very exciting and shocking with each turn. The author sure knows how to write a story that had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I loved the main characters. I loved the little side characters who helped fill the gaps in this story and shape it into its most interesting parts.

If you love a good mystery, this is it. Thrills, suspense, mystery… Stranger in the Lake has it all.

Second Skin by Christian White

Book Description:

Published: April 2, 2020

Format: Audio/Audible

Stars: 4

Listening Length: 4 hours and 28 minutes

Stan Weir is mourning a tragic loss when he meets a mysterious nine-year-old girl, who claims to be the reincarnated spirit of his late wife. Marcy Keef is a single mother trying to make ends meet, when her daughter Erin starts describing “past life memories.” Neither wants to believe Erin, but as violent secrets are revealed, the truth becomes harder to deny.

With echoes of Stephen King, Second Skin is a propulsive thriller about grief, guilt, and truths better left unknown.

Review –

This book is one released only on Audible and free for members in April 2020. Audible usually provides 5-7 free books at the first of every month and in April I chose four. In May, I didn’t;t choose any-none of them were “my cup of tea”, but I love that they do that for their members.

At four and a half hours of audio it is not a long book, but I thought the author packed quite a lot of story, characterizations and twists in that short period. It was an easy listen and I did not see the ending coming until a large twist was revealed.

Second Skin was a good mystery with a paranormal angle to it and some unexpected twists along the way. Can’t reveal too much as it would be a spoiler. The narration by Ellen Archer in all voices was especially outstanding.

The cover image seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with the plot, unless I blinked and missed it. I hate this! I wish I had the job of choosing book covers, but a girl can only dream!

If this book comes out later this year in print or e-book form you should really give it a try. You will not be disappointed .

Loved it!

Mine by Courtney Cole

Book Description:

Published: May 28, 2019

Format: Audio/Scribd

Stars: 4

Tessa was prepared for the hurricane. Lindsey was the storm she didn’t see coming.

When Tessa Taylor unlocked her husband Ethan’s iPad to discover nude photos from a twenty-six-year-old bombshell named Lindsey, her seemingly perfect life came to a screeching halt.

With a hurricane barreling toward Florida and Ethan stuck on a business trip, Tessa finds herself imprisoned in her own home with a choice to make: Does she ride out the storm until she can confront Ethan in person, or does she take matters into her own hands?

Increasingly restless and desperate for revenge, Tessa resolves to act. And when she lures Lindsey over a few hours later, there’s no turning back.

What ensues is a battle of wills between two well-matched opponents, blinded by love for the same man but driven by demons of their own. Like storm-ravaged Florida, neither woman will be the same when the skies clear.

Review –

Mine is told through alternating perspectives: Tess, Ethan’s wife and mother of his children, and Lindsey, Ethan’s younger mistress. Lindsey is also a mother, but her son is living with her mother while she figures out her life.

As with many thrillers, the timeline jumps around. I believe most of Tess’s chapters are told in the present, while Lindsey’s are told in the past and focus on how she and Ethan began their relationship and how it progressed.

In the present day, the book follows the events of one night. Once Tess discovers Ethan has been cheating on her (he is away for work), she invites Lindsey over to confront her over the affair during a hurricane. For the most part, Lindsey is fairly unapologetic about the whole situation. She knew Ethan was married and didn’t care. She blamed Tess for why the marriage fell apart and thought Ethan would be the perfect addition to her and her son.

For awhile you wonder if either woman would be alive at the end of the book. They are brutal!

If you read The Last Mrs. Parrish, you’ll see some similar moments/themes. However, outside of the idea of two women fighting over one man, I don’t think they were that similar.

Everything is fairly wrapped up by the end and I was happy with the conclusion. Mine definitely falls more into the thriller category over a mystery.

It was a quick and suspenseful read for a hot Spring day in Oklahoma!. (it was 101 degrees here today.)

 

Wilder Girls by Rory Power

Book Description:

Published; July 9, 2019

Format: Audio/Audible

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.

Review –

Rory Power’s Wilder Girls is an unearthly read that takes a hard and disturbing look at what happens when a mysterious plague-like disease called the Tox infects the entire population of an all-girls boarding school off the coast of Maine.

When Wilder Girls opens, many are already dead, both teachers and students, and the entire island has been in quarantine for eighteen months.  Boats periodically come and drop off supplies for the quarantined survivors, but aside from that and the occasional promise that the CDC is doing everything they can to find a cure, there is no contact with the outside world.

The author does a wonderful job of creating an eerie and terrifying atmosphere by plunging her readers right into the action and showing us what the Tox has done to the girls.  Even with our first glance around the school, we see a girl whose arm has suddenly grown reptilian-like scales on it, another girl whose eye has sealed shut and now appears to be growing something beneath the seal, and even a girl who appears to have grown a second spine that protrudes out of her back. And that’s just scratching the surface of ways this disease is manifesting itself.  The mood is dark and desperate, there aren’t nearly enough supplies being sent, and most social conventions have flown out the window as the name of the game is survival.  I read somewhere that this book is considered a feminist retelling of Lord of the Flies, and from those first moments, I definitely felt a similar vibe between the two books.

The opening scenes caused me to ask  question after question and even got my inner conspiracy theorist humming.  What the heck is the Tox?  Why are everyone’s physical symptoms so different?  Why the total isolation, without even radio contact? Is the government responsible for the tox?  If not, is it something alien?   And on and on, you get the idea. This is a book that will definitely make you think and it’s also a quick read because you’ll find yourself just dying to get all of your questions answered.

I enjoyed the friendship of the three main characters, Hetty, Byatt, and Reese.  These three girls are very loyal to each other and do everything they can to make sure all three of them have the best chance of survival.  When Byatt unexpectedly disappears. Hetty and Reese make it their mission to find out what has happened to her.  What they find as they search for her is every bit as disturbing as the Tox itself and adds tremendous tension and suspense to what is already a book that you won’t want to put down.

I only gave the book 3 stars because I had a  a few issues with it.  The first is that I didn’t find the explanation for the Tox to be thorough enough for my liking.  As interesting as it was, I felt like it was explained in a very vague way.  Also, even though I liked the dynamic of their friendship, I didn’t feel emotionally invested in the three main characters.  I don’t want to say that I didn’t care about what happened to them because that’s not true, but I just felt like they were at arm’s length and would have preferred getting to know a little more about each of them.  One final issue I had was the ending, which was just way too open-ended for my liking.

There were just too many unanswered questions and I felted cheated.

BUT, I did LOVE the cover! (5 stars for the cover)