REVIEW: THE NIGHT SWIM, BY MEGAN GOLDIN

Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name—and the last hope for people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The new season of Rachel’s podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season 3 a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation—but the mysterious letters keep coming.

Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insist she was murdered—and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody in town wants to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases—and a revelation that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

A small town in North Carolina is the centerpiece of The Night Swim, focused on a current rape trial and a possible murder twenty-five years before.

As the story sweeps back and forth in time, we are led along by Rachel’s narrative, Hannah’s mysterious letters, and bits of Rachel’s podcast as she documents the current trial.

It doesn’t take long to see that many characters are interwoven into both stories, reminding us that the past can follow us into the present, as the secrets and crimes are untangled and revealed.

With an intensity that is enhanced by the short chapters and the fast pace, I sometimes felt confused by how many similarities existed between the separate events. Were these facts coincidental, or were many of the players repeating their bad behavior in the present?

One thing I’ve learned about small town life is how desperately the people depend on friends, and even enemies over whom they have leverage, and as a result, they sometimes escape justice. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

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REVIEW: THE GIRL FROM WIDOW HILLS, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

 

Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

And now, the girl from Widow Hills is about to become the center of the story, once again, in this propulsive page-turner from suspense master Megan Miranda.


When we first meet Arden Maynor in her current iteration as Olivia Meyer, she is an adult trying to move beyond the events of her childhood. As The Girl from Widow Hills, she is the story in the news, the little girl who was rescued after three days. One from whom journalists constantly seek more information.

Did nobody really believe the story they were told back then? Does Olivia not remember what happened, or is she part of a cover-up?

When a man is found dead outside her home miles away from where she grew up, in the place she has found to start over, is there more to the original story that will be revealed?

I loved how twisty and unexpected the journey takes us until finally we are offered bits and pieces of the truth. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: STRANGER IN THE LAKE, BY KIMBERLY BELLE

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.

 

Stranger in the Lake opens upon Charlotte’s happy new life, married to wealthy Paul Keller and living in a beautiful home. She loves the sense of security, having grown up in trailer parks without enough food. But there are things she still doesn’t know about her husband, who doesn’t share what happened with his first wife and how she died.

Now, just as Charlotte is hoping to eventually learn more, she finds a dead woman floating in the lake at their dock. Too many coincidences make Charlotte begin to question her husband and the fact that his first wife was also found in the lake. His friendships with others who are very secretive increase her concerns about what happened in the past. And now Paul has mysteriously gone away during the initial investigation, and Charlotte finds herself having to try to fill in the blanks for him.

We see glimpses of the past in alternating narratives. What are Paul and his friends hiding, and what do their secrets have to do with the dead woman? Eventually more is revealed as the tension increases, with unexpected twists unfolding. The ending wrapped up a little too smoothly, but most of the questions were answered. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: THE HALF SISTER, BY SANDIE JONES

 

Sisters Kate and Lauren meet for Sunday lunch every week without fail, especially after the loss of their father.

THE LIE

But a knock at the door is about to change everything. A young woman by the name of Jess holds a note with the results of a DNA test, claiming to be their half sister.

THE UNTHINKABLE

As the fallout starts, it’s clear that they are all hiding secrets, and perhaps this family isn’t as perfect as it appears.

As The Half Sister opens on a family event, we watch as a presumably happy family will unravel into a series of doubts, suspicion, and the unveiling of the family myths. We follow the story through alternating narratives and learn Kate’s side of things, Lauren’s perspective, and how each of them has misunderstood the family in which they were raised.

Will the secrets, lies, and mistrust change the lives they now live? Will Lauren find the courage to face the truth and change her own current family situation? Will Kate come to accept her relationship with Lauren and the possibility of the new “sister” Jess claims to be?

Twists and turns kept me glued to the pages, and I couldn’t wait to accept my own version of events. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: PRETTY THINGS, BY JANELLE BROWN

 

Nina once bought into the idea that her fancy liberal arts degree would lead to a fulfilling career. When that dream crashed, she turned to stealing from rich kids in L.A. alongside her wily Irish boyfriend, Lachlan. Nina learned from the best: Her mother was the original con artist, hustling to give her daughter a decent childhood despite their wayward life. But when her mom gets sick, Nina puts everything on the line to help her, even if it means running her most audacious, dangerous scam yet.

Vanessa is a privileged young heiress who wanted to make her mark in the world. Instead she becomes an Instagram influencer—traveling the globe, receiving free clothes and products, and posing for pictures in exotic locales. But behind the covetable façade is a life marked by tragedy. After a broken engagement, Vanessa retreats to her family’s sprawling mountain estate, Stonehaven: a mansion of dark secrets not just from Vanessa’s past, but from that of a lost and troubled girl named Nina.

Nina’s, Vanessa’s, and Lachlan’s paths collide here, on the cold shores of Lake Tahoe, where their intertwined lives give way to a winter of aspiration and desire, duplicity and revenge.

Pretty Things is a story about dreams, identity, and the fears that drive our journey. How Vanessa and Nina originally connect is at the heart of the story. Nina was a young girl exploring love and searching for her place in the world and struggling to separate from her con artist mom. That girl is tossed aside by the Leibling family, which fuels her rage and her resentments.

Vanessa, feeling unloved unless she is the star of her own dream world, creates fantasies and then believes they are her reality. But disappointments, loss, and rage lead her to seek revenge against Nina.

Nina and Vanessa’s stories are told in alternate sections, and as we begin to really know them, we think we have a handle on what they will do next. But there are just enough twists that we are not sure if we are being conned, or if we might trust the picture they are painting for us.

Throughout the journey, I felt empathy for each of them at different times, but never lost track of the damages at the heart of them. A core of vulnerability, mixed with the hardness created by time and numerous life injuries, made them intriguing…and potentially dangerous. Could either woman redeem herself? I kept reading, hoping to find out. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE FLATSHARE, BY BETH O’LEARY

Tiffy and Leon share an apartment. Tiffy and Leon have never met.

After a bad breakup, Tiffy Moore needs a place to live. Fast. And cheap. But the apartments in her budget have her wondering if astonishingly colored mold on the walls counts as art.

Desperation makes her open minded, so she answers an ad for a flatshare. Leon, a night shift worker, will take the apartment during the day, and Tiffy can have it nights and weekends. He’ll only ever be there when she’s at the office. In fact, they’ll never even have to meet.

Tiffy and Leon start writing each other notes – first about what day is garbage day, and politely establishing what leftovers are up for grabs, and the evergreen question of whether the toilet seat should stay up or down. Even though they are opposites, they soon become friends. And then maybe more.

But falling in love with your roommate is probably a terrible idea…especially if you’ve never met.

 

The Flatshare was an adorable and delightful journey that takes two strangers that start off sharing a flat in their “off hours” to the ordinary notes that turn cute. Like a “meet cute” without actually seeing each other.

They each discover that the connection that is slowly building through the shared post-it notes begins to feel like a relationship. Especially when their friends begin pushing for them to take the next step: to actually meet.

How the meeting happens turns into a kind of on-off effort that is another part of the slow-build journey. There is much to sort out, beginning with how to get past the baggage of their past relationships.

One might conclude that this is just a predictable romantic story, but the quirky and unusual elements turned it into so much more. I liked the way we could see the characters through their notes and their internal monologues…and then watch their missteps along the way until finally, we had a satisfactory ending. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WATCH ME DISAPPEAR, BY JANELLE BROWN

 

It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. Her body was never found, just a shattered cellphone and a solitary hiking boot. Her husband and teenage daughter have been coping with Billie’s death the best they can: Jonathan drinks as he works on a loving memoir about his marriage; Olive grows remote, from both her father and her friends at the all-girls school she attends.

But then Olive starts having strange visions of her mother, still alive. Jonathan worries about Olive’s emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie’s past that bring into question everything he thought he understood about his wife. Who was the woman he knew as Billie Flanagan?

Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, but also about themselves, learning, in the process, about all the ways that love can distort what we choose to see. Janelle Brown’s insights into the dynamics of intimate relationships will make you question the stories you tell yourself about the people you love, while her nervy storytelling will keep you guessing until the very last page.


In Watch Me Disappear, we follow the thoughts and actions of those left behind when Billie Flanagan “dies.” Did she die, though, or did she choose to disappear?

A year later, her beloved friends and family are still struggling with that question. Jonathan is writing a memoir of his life with Billie, but the more he digs into what he knew about her and their life together, he realizes that he has more questions than answers about Billie. Who was she really, and did he even know her at all? She has had a history of disappearing from her life, beginning when she was very young. Has she done the same thing again?

Her daughter Olive was close to Billie, but near the end, there were some troubled spots. Now Olive wants to reach her mother just one more time. When she starts seeing “visions,” she is convinced that Billie is communicating with her.

Our story weaves back and forth in time, with more revelations as the moments pass, and just when we think we know what really happened, a final twist seemingly comes out of nowhere. This book I couldn’t put down earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: AFTER ANNA, BY ALEX LAKE

A girl is missing. Five years old, taken from outside her school. She has vanished, traceless.

The police are at a loss; her parents are beyond grief. Their daughter is lost forever, perhaps dead, perhaps enslaved.

But the biggest mystery is yet to come: one week after she was abducted, their daughter is returned.

She has no memory of where she has been. And this, for her mother, is just the beginning of the nightmare.

 

The parents in After Anna are Brian and Julia, and their marriage is on the outs for unrelated issues. The plan was to separate, but then Anna was taken. As soon as Anna is returned, Julia has only a few rare moments of peace before the worst of the nightmare begins.

Throughout the time that Anna has been missing, vitriol was spewed on Julia from the press in an unending onslaught. Who is leaking information to them, and why are they twisting everything?

Meanwhile, the perpetrator carries on his/her internal monologue, advising the reader of the future plan to keep the target pointed on the family, especially Julia.

On the other hand, why is Edna, Brian’s mother, who has never liked Julia, manipulating everything and turning Brian against Julia? She is a very unpleasant character and is most likely up to no good.

As the intensity ratchets up, the reader is offered a close-up view of the insanity of our perpetrator’s mind. I had the identity figured out before the end, but a glimpse into the twisted mind of the evil person was so intense I could not stop reading. I was biting my nails, and kept following the actions until the anti-climactic conclusion. 5 stars

***

REVIEW: A GOOD MARRIAGE, BY KIMBERLY MCCREIGHT

Lizzie Kitsakis is working late when she gets the call. Grueling hours are standard at elite law firms like Young & Crane, but they’d be easier to swallow if Lizzie was there voluntarily. Until recently, she’d been a happily underpaid federal prosecutor. That job and her brilliant, devoted husband Sam—she had everything she’d ever wanted. And then, suddenly, it all fell apart.

No. That’s a lie. It wasn’t sudden, was it? Long ago the cracks in Lizzie’s marriage had started to show. She was just good at averting her eyes.

The last thing Lizzie needs right now is a call from an inmate at Rikers asking for help—even if Zach Grayson is an old friend. But Zach is desperate: his wife, Amanda, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their Brooklyn brownstone. And Zach’s the primary suspect.

As Lizzie is drawn into the dark heart of idyllic Park Slope, she learns that Zach and Amanda weren’t what they seemed—and that their friends, a close-knit group of fellow parents at the exclusive Brooklyn Country Day school, might be protecting troubling secrets of their own. In the end, she’s left wondering not only whether her own marriage can be saved, but what it means to have a good marriage in the first place.


From the very beginning of A Good Marriage, we know that the characters will be very flawed, with lots of secrets, and that Lizzie will be following a twisted trail to find the answers she seeks. In fact, her own marriage has a bit of darkness, too, and she might have to end up protecting her own.

As Lizzie tries to find alternate suspects for Amanda’s death, she learns a lot more about Amanda, whose journals and their descriptions make finding the truth that much harder. Plus, moving from one possibility to another leads her along some very convoluted pathways. Lizzie is our first person narrator, but the narrative flips between other characters and to testimony given during the grand jury hearing.

As we begin to figure out who might be guilty, we discover that the suburban couples have another threat from an unexpected source. Their secrets might be disclosed, and in order to protect them, they must do a lot more to stop that person. But in the process, will the wrong person be hurt? 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE GIRL IN WHITE GLOVES, BY KERRI MAHER

A life in snapshots…

Grace knows what people see. She’s the Cinderella story. An icon of glamor and elegance frozen in dazzling Technicolor. The picture of perfection. The girl in white gloves.

A woman in living color…

But behind the lens, beyond the panoramic views of glistening Mediterranean azure, she knows the truth. The sacrifices it takes for an unappreciated girl from Philadelphia to defy her family and become the reigning queen of the screen. The heartbreaking reasons she trades Hollywood for a crown. The loneliness of being a princess in a fairy tale kingdom that is all too real.

Hardest of all for her adoring fans and loyal subjects to comprehend, is the harsh reality that to be the most envied woman in the world does not mean she is the happiest. Starved for affection and purpose, facing a labyrinth of romantic and social expectations with more twists and turns than Monaco’s infamous winding roads, Grace must find her own way to fulfillment. But what she risks—her art, her family, her marriage—she may never get back.

 

The story of Grace Kelly is told in flashbacks to her early years, when she first entered the world of theater and then movies. We follow her through her various love affairs that coincide with her movies. From there we flash forward to her first meeting with the Prince. Back then, we are offered a glimpse of what life looks like in the beginning, while moving forward we see what happened to take them off the fairytale course.

In those early years, I learned new things about Grace that I hadn’t read anywhere else, but by the time she was the Princess, living in Monaco, I was on familiar ground.

No matter how much of a fairytale life she had fallen into, we see a sad realization as the years moved by. She had given up so much to become the Princess. Would she come to regret it? And would the sad and tragic ending remind us all that sometimes we must make bittersweet choices? The Girl in White Gloves is a great story that earned 4.5 stars from me.

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