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.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Springthorpe Agenda

Springthorpe Agenda

The Springthorpe Agenda by Dale Ripley (Thriller)

Creepy stories, to me, are ones that could actually happen and are, therefore, frightening to contemplate. They employ scary situations that just might be possible if one is unfortunate enough to encounter them. If they’re too far out, it can be hard to feel that necessary sense of dread.

The opening chapter of The Springthorpe Agenda makes it clear that something awful is going on in an old age home. In a hidden room below the facility, writhing bodies and crying forms in crumpled heaps huddle inside steel cages, begging to “go back.” A gray-haired woman is strapped to an exam table surrounded by “sharp instruments, needles and serums.” Meanwhile, upstairs, beaming elderly patients with glazed eyes and big, toothless smiles crowd around the nurse, eager to get their pills. Hmmm…

When Mark Hogarth gets a text from his sister that their dad has died unexpectedly, he’s surprised and filled with guilt. Dad was a patient at Springthorpe Manor, the same nursing home where their mother died of Alzheimer’s disease not that long ago. Dad seemed healthy, and Mark didn’t visit often enough. Now, when he calls the facility, a nurse tells him they’ve already cremated his dad’s body, and he needs to come pick up the ashes. Odd, but then, Springthorpe Manor also has its own sprawling cemetery right next door, so it’s apparently some sort of a full-service facility.

It doesn’t take long for Mark to suspect that not all is well at Springthorpe, which sets him on a quest to find out what really happened to his parents. Things move along quickly, there are some suitably sinister characters, an amazing coincidence involving a child, and a weird twist that creates a surprise ending – not quite a deus ex machina, but close. Whether you find any of it creepy — or just unusual — is up to you.

Mechanically speaking, Ripley is a good writer with an interesting style and a flair for descriptive phrasing. The line editing is flawless, but the book has some distractions common to first novels that have not had strong content editing. Head-hopping occurs often enough to be noticeable – the character whose head you’re in can’t know what someone else is remembering at that moment. It’s also disconcerting when a character is acutely aware of her own eye or hair color, so that she watches someone through her own emerald green eyes or flips her own blond hair over her shoulder. It’s not like she has more than one option. Still, the how-will-this-all-end question is strong enough to keep one reading.

Grandma gives The Springthorpe Agenda three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy of the book from the author with a request for an honest review.

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia (Suspense)

Mindy Mejia (Everything You Want Me to Be) is a master at creating people you can see, feel, and touch. You understand where they’re coming from. You care about them. When the two main characters are both social outcasts as they are in Leave No Trace, it’s even better. Now you really want them to succeed.

Maya, a newly graduated speech therapist with a rocky past, is assigned to the case of Lucas, a nineteen-year-old patient in a mental hospital. Ten years before, he and his widowed dad disappeared into the Minnesota wilderness known as the Boundary Waters. They were assumed dead until Lucas broke into an outfitter’s store and was captured.

Now Maya is tasked with getting Lucas to communicate with her about where he and his father went and why. The death of a landlady occurred just before they disappeared, and the father is a prime suspect. But a bond has formed between Maya and Lucas, and Maya is torn between betraying Lucas’s trust or betraying the mentor who has seen her through thick and thin.

A strong sense of place pervades this novel. The author transports us to Duluth, Minnesota, and the Boundary Waters. We feel the draw the glacial lakes have on Lucas, and we find that Maya herself is no stranger to the outdoor life. She’s also extremely knowledgeable about the geology of the area, as that was the professional interest of the mother who deserted Maya and her father and left Maya with only a few precious agates to remember her by. All of it works together brilliantly to make an absorbing book that was impossible to put down. An unexpected twist near the end was just frosting on a well-constructed cake.

Grandma gives Leave No Trace five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC from the publisher via NetGalley with a request for an honest review.

Leave No Trace will be released on September 4, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage (Psychological Suspense)

When I started this book, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Seven-year-old Hanna is not only unlikable, she’s terrifying. A tiny psychopathic manipulator, her goal is to get rid of her mother so she can have her father all to herself.

The mother, Suzette, appears to be a shallow upper class matron struggling to keep face while her daughter exhibits bizarre and sometimes violent behavior in public. The father, a successful businessman who is away a lot, knows Hanna only as a sweet, innocent child who adores him. He refuses to believe that she’s capable of the nastiness attributed to her by her mother and what he considers to be inept headmasters of private schools that keep expelling Hanna.

Before long, however, the personalities and backstories of Suzette and Hanna blossom as each narrates the tale in alternating chapters. Hanna becomes more terrifying, but Suzette is now someone I can care about. I found myself enthralled by Hanna’s resourcefulness as she gleefully tormented her mother in accelerated attacks. Meanwhile, the father begins to witness injuries and destruction that he cannot ignore.

The author does a great job of fleshing out the characters, including a child therapist who does her best to help the family cope with Hanna’s aberrant behavior. Hanna’s child side comes through as she gives snide names to adults like “Brown Teeth” and “Mrs. Stinky Breath.”

Suzette’s repeated navel-gazing regarding how she may have messed up as a mother became somewhat redundant at times, but not terribly. My one complaint is that the ending left everything hanging. Sometimes, you just want to know that the people you care about are going to be safe.

Grandma gives Baby Teeth four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. with a request for an honest review.