The Suspect

The Suspect

The Suspect by Fiona Barton (Psychological Thriller)

Fiona Barton (The Child) has written another intriguing psychological thriller that’s hard to put down.

Two teen-aged British girls disappear while on a post-graduation trip to Thailand. Newspaper reporter Kate Waters takes an interest in learning more after meeting the girls’ parents. Kate’s own son is on a gap-year trip, and she can relate to a mother’s worry, especially when the travelers do a poor job of keeping in touch. Little does she realize how personal her interest will become once she travels to Thailand to flesh out her story.

Three characters narrate the novel in alternating chapters — one of the missing girls, Kate, and Detective Inspector Bob Sparke of the London police. Through their eyes we experience the seedy side of Bangkok, the angst of parents waiting for news they may not want to hear, and the damage that dogged commitment to career can wreak on families. Interesting twists keep the ending from being predictable even though one must wonder at the coincidence that brings all of the characters together in the first place. Barton’s enjoyable writing style keeps it all moving along, creating a book that’s likely to keep you reading later into the night than you may have intended.

Four and a half stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Suspect will be released on January 24, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

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The Au Pair

The Au Pair

The Au Pair by Emma Rous (Psychological Suspense)

If you enjoy books that keep you guessing right up to an ending you never saw coming, this will be right up your alley.

Twenty-five-year-old Seraphine has always felt that she didn’t belong in her family. She doesn’t resemble her twin brother or her older brother. When she finds a family photo of the day she and her twin were born, their mother is holding only one baby. And shortly after that photo was taken, their mother committed suicide.

Seraphine’s father has died, and her wealthy, strong-willed grandmother refuses to talk about the day Seraphine’s mother fell to her death. The one person who may have answers is her older brother’s former au pair, Laura. But when Seraphine sets out to find her, everything becomes even darker and more complicated.

The tale unravels in chapters alternately voiced by Seraphine and Laura, with Seraphine documenting the present, and Laura revealing the past. The characters and the location, a seaside mansion on the English coast, come alive.  Although a couple of coincidences felt too convenient, the overall resolution was complex and unforeseeable, making for a satisfying ending.

Four and a half stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

The Au Pair will be released on January 8, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

Girls on the Line

Girls on the Line

Girls on the Line by Aimie K. Runyan (Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction)

Good historical fiction informs as well as entertains. Girls on the Line does a great job of both as it takes us into the lives of young women who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I.

While books about World War II abound, not a lot of present-day fiction is set during the Great War. As the author notes, modern-day Europeans are much more aware of the first world war than Americans are. But 100 years ago, Americans — both men and women — were deployed to Europe to fight “the Hun.” Among those individuals were female switchboard operators who volunteered to serve on the front lines connecting the troops with their commanding officers via telephone.

Runyan has done a lot of research, including reading the diaries of women who served in the signal corps. Her story is rich with details as well as nicely developed characters whose fates we become invested in. We see independent young women struggle with the misogyny and paternalism of the era, including the arranged marriages common among high-society families, and we witness the deplorable lack of recognition for the heroism of the “Hello Girls” as the operators were called, when the war ends.

Five stars.

This reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley for the purpose of an independent review.

Girls on the Line will be released on November 6, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

 

The Wartime Sisters

The Wartime Sisters

The Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman (Historical Fiction)

Another World War II novel, this one set in Springfield, Massachusetts, at the Springfield Armory. The author grew up in the area and has done a thorough job of researching the armory’s history and physical setting. She has read all of the old armory newsletters,  knows how the officers and their families lived, and understands how work in the munitions factories went. Still, I have a hard time thinking of this as historical fiction, for the story that is told could be set anywhere, any time. The armory and World War II simply provide an interesting (and currently popular) environment.

Two sisters have been estranged for most of their lives. Ruth, the serious one, has always resented her younger sister’s beauty and active social life. Everyone notices Millie; Ruth is invisible. They go their separate ways as adults, but then circumstances throw them back together when Millie shows up at Ruth’s door with a two-year-old and a husband who is MIA.

Ruth is happily married. Her husband is an officer stationed at the armory, and she has young twin daughters. Still, she is reserved and unsure of herself in social settings, and when Millie comes back into her life, old resentments flare. She relives every petty conflict and every perceived slight from their youth. Millie, meanwhile, is struggling to make ends meet and to take care of her child. She takes an armory job making triggers. But instead of endearing her to Ruth, their reversed social status only seems to make things worse. Ruth finds Millie a burden she must endure. Millie longs to get away from her bossy older sister.

The blurb for the novel refers to “deep secrets” that each sister carries, but they weren’t that deep nor were they a big surprise. There is some tension, a fleeting moment or two of danger, but any dangerous situations are quickly resolved. In short, there’s not a lot of new stuff here. As for the era, other than some name-dropping and a rare reference to a restaurant or club where Jews are not allowed, we’re not overly aware of the times. The war doesn’t really influence our protagonists’ daily lives beyond the fact that the armory makes arms and there’s a shortage of sensible shoes. The working class goes to work, and the haughty officers’ wives could be high society matrons anywhere.

Three stars.

This reviewer received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

This book will be released on January 22, 2019, and is available for pre-order.

Something in the Water

Something in the Water

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman (Suspense)

“Something in the water” refers to an object, but by the end of this book I was beginning to think it was a contaminant in what the main characters were drinking. Two basically normal people who loved each other turned into greedy, conniving, and often unbelievably stupid individuals making very poor choices, and it all happened practically overnight.

The book starts off with a bang. The narrator is digging a shallow grave into which she rolls her husband’s corpse. Wow. How did that happen and why?

Wanting to know the answer to that question was the only thing that kept me reading to the end. Most of what came in between was either painfully slow, highly unlikely, or an attempt at suspense where there wasn’t any. Are those sharks in the water where they’re scuba diving in Bora Bora? Oh, no! How did that mobster she’s been interviewing know where to send honeymoon flowers and champagne, and why did he send them? Better tell new hubby they came from somebody else!

What was meant to be a surprise twist at the end was just another in a long series of improbabilities. And why was hubby dead? Darwinism at its most pure.

Yes, Catherine Steadman is the actress in Downton Abbey. And yes, this book is slated to become a movie. Don’t let either of those keep you from passing by this one.

Two stars.

This reviewer received a free copy from the publisher via NetGalley.

Manuscript for Murder

Manuscript for Murder

Manuscript for Murder by Jessica Fletcher and Jon Land (Murder, She Wrote series)

Thriller author Jon Land was chosen by Donald Bain to take over the latter’s super-popular cozy mystery series, “Murder, She Wrote.” Manuscript for Murder is the second book penned by Land, and it is a fun romp.

Not that there aren’t plenty of bodies. They’re showing up in locales other than Cabot Cove, the bucolic Maine hometown of mystery author and amateur sleuth, Jessica Fletcher, but they all have a link to the feisty widow. Her publisher of thirty years, Lane Barfield, has given her a manuscript to read, one that has him convinced he’s found the next big blockbuster of a thriller. It doesn’t take long to learn that association with that manuscript can be bad for one’s health, including hers. Who is the unknown author of the deadly manuscript, and what makes knowledge of its contents potentially lethal?

Land has done a fine job of channeling the indomitable Mrs. Fletcher and her usual band of supporting characters. Witty repartee abounds, showcasing the mutual affection between Mrs. Fletcher and the assorted investigators who grudgingly tolerate her involvement in their crime scenes but ultimately benefit from her wisdom and sharp eye.

Land’s penchant for writing thrillers comes through, as well. Tension mounts along with the body count, and the stakes reach well beyond Mrs. Fletcher‘s literary circles and  hometown friends to the heights of power in Washington, D.C. His signature cliffhangers make this cozy mystery a page-turner you’ll have a hard time putting down.

FIVE STARS 5 stars

This reviewer received an ARC from the author via TopShelf Magazine for the purpose of an honest review.

Manuscript for Murder will be released on November 6, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

Not Her Daughter

Not Her Daughter

Not Her Daughter by Rea Frey (Thriller)

Is kidnapping a child okay if you feel you will give her a better life?

Emma is a five-year-old whose mother mistreats her, both verbally and physically. This breaks the heart of single, childless Sarah who has never fully recovered from being abandoned by her own mother. So, she does the unthinkable: she kidnaps the kid and heads out of town with her. Once they’re on the road, it’s too late to turn back. What now?

The story is told from the points of view of both Sarah and Amy, Emma’s mother. Amy is a thoroughly unlikable person drawn with a heavy hand. She is grossly overweight, has pock-marked skin, and possesses no self-control. Deep anger toward everything and everyone in her life consumes her. She’s a lousy wife to Richard, who is small, scrawny, and prone to tears. He’s also oblivious to the bruises on his daughter. These two certainly don’t deserve to have a child, especially Emma, who is an exceptionally beautiful little girl with huge gray eyes and a sweet smile.

Sarah, meanwhile, is attractive, successful, and rich — a self-made businesswoman. Her father is pretty much of a weakling, still waiting for his incommunicado wife to come back after twenty-five years, but the other men in Sarah’s life — Ethan and Ryan — are hunks. However, she longs for her own mother, and so she needs to save Emma the way she wishes someone had saved her.

Besides creating unappealing — and thereby undeserving — characters via significant reference to their physical appearance, this book is rife with crummy mothers. Sarah, on the other hand, in spite of the fact that she takes a five-year-old from her home and family, is meant to be a better bet than any of the parents we’ve seen so far. So, how could Emma not be better off?

More than once — three times to be exact — the author had one of the narrators tell herself that what was happening was real, not something in a movie or a book. Besides jolting me out of the story to think, “except this is a book,” the line served as a reminder of how unrealistic this was. The happy-go-lucky conclusion made it even worse.

Rather than a thriller, this was a fantasy.

Three stars for writing style but not storyline.

The reviewer received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley.