The Darkest Corners by Kara Thomas

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The Darkest Corners offers fast-paced thrills and suspense. The main character, Tessa, is sort of an unreliable narrator, causing readers to wonder whether she can truly be trusted, or if she is in on some secret herself. As more of Tessa’s family history and past is revealed, readers may start to feel sorry for her, rooting for her to make it out of the nightmare her life has become.

We first meet Tessa as she travels from Florida, where she lives with her aging Gram, back to her hometown. She hasn’t been back in 10 years, and is only going to say goodbye to her father, who is in prison and dying of cancer. He has been in prison for most of her life, and the memories of her father from childhood are mostly sad and violent. Tessa ends up staying with her former best friend and childhood playmate, Callie, who she also hasn’t seen in 10 years. Callie was born into a loving, stable family whereas Tessa came from the wrong side of the tracks, so to speak. Despite their differences, they were best friends once, prior to being separated at the age of 8. Now, neither wants to admit the truth of what actually happened 10 years ago to the other.

While they are in a sort of standstill with each other, one of their mutual old friends, Arial, goes missing and her body is found shortly thereafter. Her murder matches that of the Ohio River Monster, a man named Stokes, who is only behind bars because of 8 year old Callie’s and Tessa’s testifying that he abducted and then killed Callie’s cousin, Lori. So, if Stokes is still locked up, does that mean the Ohio River Monster is still on the loose and has been the whole time? Add into the mix that neither Tessa’s mother or sister have contacted her in 10 years and she is unable to locate either of them. What does that mean for Tessa? Who can she trust, and why is her family in hiding? Tessa has to figure out who the real serial killer is before it’s too late.

The ending is totally unexpected and will throw readers for a tailspin, in a good way, of course. I very much enjoyed this book and would recommend it to suspense, mystery, and thriller fans.

 

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The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

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This is a heartbreaking, raw story of mental illness and how it can systematically unravel the bonds between a family. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, but it was so much more than a young adult coming-of-age story. Of course, there is some young romance and dating involved, but poor Cassie was forced to grow up so early in her life, and was therefore wise beyond her years. For these reasons, the plot is more mature than some young adult novels, and adults would enjoy it as much as teens.

I won’t reveal too much of the plot because you will enjoy it much more learning the story as I did – in bits and pieces of Cassie’s past as she remembers them, discovering moments that have been hidden or repressed in her own memory.

Cassie was placed in a mental institution by her mother, out of the blue, and against her will at the age of 15. She spent two and a half years there, with no support from her family and most everyone believing that she was lying. Even the therapist assigned to her, Dr. Meeks, didn’t believe her or support her. When she turns 18, she emancipates herself and leaves the institution to attend college at her mother’s alma matter. Her only regret is leaving the only true friend she has ever had, James, behind at the institution. Readers get the truth behind why Cassie was at the institution in snippets and flashbacks of her life and tumultuous relationship with her mother. At times, it is hard to read, to imagine what Cassie went through all her life. Once I read the full story of what all happened to her, when she finally revealed it to Liz, near the end, tears streamed down my face.I felt so horrible for Cassie, yet so proud of her ability to carry on and try to find herself. This is a beautiful story, and a unique look at mental illness and perception. Not everything is as it seems.

I was intrigued by the title of this book, and after reading it, I couldn’t think of a more fitting title. Drowning doesn’t always have to be in the literal sense of drowning in water. Unfortunately, as young Cassie is well aware, she spent most of her life drowning.

This is a debut novel and it packs a huge emotional punch. I’ll not be forgetting Cassie or her story any time in the near future. I hope Kletter writes many more stories. I highly recommend this book, if for nothing else but a reminder to everyone to have compassion and empathy for others.

Fans of We Were Here, Everything, Everything, and All the Bright Places will surely enjoy this novel.

First Comes Love by Emily Giffin

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The bad news is that we have to wait until June 28th for this beauty to be published! The good news is that it is totally worth the wait! I love, love, LOVE this book. I’ll try to do it some justice with my review.

First Comes Love is filled with highly relatable family situations and candid conversations among the characters. The characters are likable, despite their flaws. They seem real, and Giffin goes a wonderful job of making them come to life. At times, the scenes are hilarious, while at others tender and heartfelt.

The story begins as the family is approaching the 15 year anniversary of Daniel’s tragic and untimely (at the age of 25) death due to an auto accident which was of fault to no one. Each character’s outlook on life and circumstances for the past 15 years demonstrate the different ways loss & grief can affect relationships between siblings, spouses, parents/children, and even best friends.

Sisters Meredith and Josie are about as opposite as can be, with regard to their personality and life choices. Yet, their tumultuous relationship is refreshing, as it proves that they can put love first despite their differences and overcome some major rough times. They likely wouldn’t have a thing to do with each other, save for Josie’s love for her younger sibling Meredith’s 4 year old daughter, Harper. Meredith is a high profile lawyer and busy mother, living with constant stress and strain in her marriage to Nolan, her late brother Daniel’s best friend. Josie is a 1st grade teacher, life of the party, but worried about finding “the one” because she is getting closer to 40 and has always wanted to be a mother.

Nolan & Meredith’s marriage is particularly true-to-life, because in reality no marriage is perfect. Marriage takes work by both parties, whether the parties love each other or are “in love,” or both. Giffin makes a point that with social media, everyone seems even more worried about keeping up appearances and appearing perfect in front of the world. It is mentioned by one of the characters that everyone assumes that everyone else has the perfect life and marriage, when in reality most everyone struggles at some point – and that’s ok. Life wasn’t meant to be perfect. It’s meant to be lived. Much of the beauty found in life is revealed in times of tragedy and struggle. Everything about this book is relatable, which makes me love it more.

Emily Giffin has a knack for realistic fiction and she slams a home run with this one. I truly loved The One & Only (released May 2014), but I enjoyed this story so much more because of the message it sends – love truly does come first.

I already miss these witty characters, and wish I could spend more moments in their lives. I want to be there for Josie and Gabe, but also for Nolan and Meredith as they are all about to experience a major life change when the story comes to an end. Sequel, please? 

 

 

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

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Wilde Lake will be published May 3, 2016 by Harper Collins.

Wilde Lake is an atmospheric, family-centered, legal suspense novel which will keep readers interested with a quick paced plot, as layers of buried secrets are uncovered one at a time. Each family member:  Lu, AJ, and their father, is hiding secrets of their own, and they all come to light, some very tragically, in the final chapters.

The story line might sound familiar to an old classic, To Kill A Mockingbird. This was by design, according to the author. She wanted to portray the idea that a crime, namely rape, committed in 1980 is looked at differently at the time, both legally and socially, than it would be in 2015.

Setting plays a large role in the story, beginning with the way the Brant family ended up in Wilde Lake, back when it was a newly developed area, offering such promise for success. Lu’s mother was talked into moving there against her wishes. Interestingly, the Brant family has become very important to the area, and are well-known for having two state attorneys in the family, Lu’s father, and Lu herself.

The dynamic between Lu and her older brother, AJ, adds a richness to the story. From as far back as Lu can remember, she has been in AJ’s shadow, trying to measure herself to him, while others are drawn to him and his talents like a magnet. Their relationship is strained, and ultimately broken when Lu finds out the truth about the night when teenage AJ saved his best friend Davey’s life and was deemed a hero. Is he really the hero that everyone believes he is? Is Lu forgetting something important about those events; or was she not privy to what really happened during her childhood?

The story switches back and forth between present day Lu at age 45, all the way back to when she was only 6 years old. Lu’s mother passed away when she was 1 week old, so she was mainly raised by Teensy, a nanny hired by their family.  Her father was a prominent lawyer and political figure who spent more time in the courtroom than he did at home. As snippets of Lu’s childhood and her upbringing are revealed, readers may better understand Lu’s demeanor and outlook on life. In the present, Lu, the first ever female state’s attorney in the state of Maryland, is prosecuting a case against a young man who murdered a woman who comes home to her apartment to find him, a stranger, there. Their town doesn’t see many murder trials, so Lu wants to do her best to seek the truth and prove herself worthy as the newly appointed state’s attorney. The more involved she becomes in the investigation, the closer she gets to uncovering some long buried family secrets.

I enjoyed this novel, and would recommend it to any fans of suspense and/or legal suspense.

 

 

 

 

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

Married for many years and with twins in their first year of college, Sarah and Jack Quinlan live a pretty normal life. Sarah feels like she knows her husband pretty well. However, when Jack’s aunt Julia is in a tragic accident, Jack and Sarah make their first trip back to Jack’s hometown of Penny Gate to be there for his family. Julia was like a mother to Jack and his young9780778318651_16f01er sister, Amy, after Jack’s parents were killed when he was a teenager. Sarah was always under the impression that Jack’s parents were killed in an auto accident. Once she begins talking to Jack’s family members and others in the tight-knit community of Penny Gate, she realizes that Jack has been hiding the truth about his parents fate, as well as many other things from her throughout their whole marriage.

After Jack’s sister, Amy, is suspected of hurting Julia, Sarah begins to wonder if Jack is not the true mastermind behind it all. It doesn’t help his case when Sarah finds out that his cousin Hal’s wife, Celia, was Jack’s serious girlfriend in high school. Not one to back down easy, Sarah decides that she will not leave Penny Gate until she discovers the truth about Jack’s parents, Julia’s “accident,” and other strange things she has witnessed in the short time since she arrived. The closer she gets to the truth, the closer she gets to someone playing a very dangerous game with her life.

This is a fast paced read, and the suspense builds all the way to the end. Gudenkauf is great at leaving little clues throughout the story, without giving away the outcome too early. I enjoyed the book, and I would recommend it to fans of Mary Kubica, Gillian Flynn, and Chevy Stevens.

Fool Me Once by Harlan Coben

foolmeonceFool Me Once will be released on March 22, 2016. This is a stand alone suspense novel from Harlan Coben, best known for writing the fast-paced, popular Myron Bolitar series. Coben is a master at writing hard-to-put-down novels, and his latest is no different.

Maya Stern, a former special operations pilot, has just buried her husband after he was brutally murdered in what appears to be a robbery gone wrong. Maya is no stranger to loss, having just buried her sister 4 months prior to her husband’s death. A concerned friend, though Maya doesn’t truly trust anyone, has brought her a nanny cam to help her feel at ease while at work away from her 2 year old daughter. One day while viewing the footage, she catches a glimpse of the unbelievable – her husband playing with their daughter. She was there when he was shot and she knows he’s gone; so, how can this be? Is she suffering from PTSD, hallucinating, and imagining things, as her in-laws and friends start to suspect? Or, is Joe still alive? She starts to question the nanny, and realizes that someone is covering up the truth. She is determined to uncover the truth about Joe, and also his younger brother who died in a boating “accident” while the two were in college, despite being warned against such activity by those closest to her. Maya will not give up until she assures that the future is safe for her daughter.

This book will have you on the edge of your reading chair, biting your nails to the quick. It’s trademark Coben, with a major plot twist which throws the reader for a loop, as he or she tries to figure out the truth. This is a quick, suspenseful story with an unexpected ending. Readers will not be disappointed.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Black Rabbit Hall will be published February 9, 2016. This is a beautiful book with a fabulous, intriguing cover.

Black Rabbit Hall is a wonderful debut novel for Eve Chase. Fans of Kate Morton would likely be fans of Black Rabbit Hall, with its mysterious corridors and hidden family secrets. Part of the story takes place in the 1960’s when Amber Alton is a teenager spending summers at Black Rabbit Hall, her family’s old estate home in Cornwall, outside of London. Amber, her twin brother Toby, younger brother Barney, and younger sister Kitty pay no attention to time while at Black Rabbit Hall, especially since none of the clocks read the same. All they know is that they are happy and well-loved by their mother and father, and Peggy, the live-in housekeeper/nanny/cook. Not much happens at Black Rabbit Hall, which is a nice change from the hustle and bustle of London. Then, unfathomable tragedy occurs and everything about their carefree days changes drastically.

Other portions of the novel follow Lorna, a thirty-two year old school teacher who is engaged to marry Jon. Lorna and her late mother, who has just recently died in a freak accident have visited Black Rabbit Hall in the past, though Lorna doesn’t remember much about when or why. There are pictures of them at the front gate when Lorna was a child. Lorna feels drawn to the crumbling estate and wishes to be married on the property, despite her fiance’s wishes and best intentions. The more time Lorna spends at Black Rabbit Hall, the stronger the connection becomes.

Though there are flowers growing up from the floorboards, bitter drafts from creaky windows, and rooms filled with vintage pieces of the Alton’s lives, Lorna is determined to stay in the house and find out what happened to the first Mrs. Alton and the four children from the photographs. The current, elderly but stately, Mrs. Alton inhabits a small wing of the estate, along with her servant and caregiver, Dill. There are vivid descriptions of the house, the beach, and the nearby woods where young Toby spends his days, building a tree house and hiding out from his stepmother. Eve Chase does a wonderful job of creating characters who really come to life in the novel. I was humbled and saddened by the hardships that Amber and her siblings had to endure at such a young age. The writing is beautiful and the story seamless, even though the plot switches back and forth between 3 decades.

This is not a ghost story, so do not be turned away if, like me, you do not like supernatural or fantasy fiction. It is, however, a story about family, love, and long buried secrets which most always are unearthed. While reading the final paragraph describing the arrival of one of the Alton siblings, I had chills and tears streaming down my face. Now that means this a beautiful story. Not many books cause me to have chills.

So, what are you waiting for? Read it!