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: 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: 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.

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REVIEW: THE OTHER MRS., BY MARY KUBICA

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. And as the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of what really happened that dark and deadly night. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

Multiple narrators tell the story of The Other Mrs., and I’m immediately drawn in by them, as it takes a while to realize just who they are and how they fit into Sadie’s life.

Will has a history of infidelity, so his every move sets off alarms for me as I read the story. Sadie has issues, but we don’t discover the extent of them until the very end.

Just as I had decided that I knew who might be the perpetrator, the author twists the tale and shows us another view. But then, another turn takes us to the truth.

I loved this story, unable to stop rapidly turning the pages. A definite 5 star read for me.

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REVIEW: THE ESCAPE ROOM, BY MEGAN GOLDIN

 

Welcome to the escape room. Your goal is simple. Get out alive.

In the lucrative world of finance, Vincent, Jules, Sylvie, and Sam are at the top of their game. They’ve mastered the art of the deal and celebrate their success in style—but a life of extreme luxury always comes at a cost.

Invited to participate in an escape room as a team-building exercise, the ferociously competitive co-workers crowd into the elevator of a high rise building, eager to prove themselves. But when the lights go off and the doors stay shut, it quickly becomes clear that this is no ordinary competition: they’re caught in a dangerous game of survival.

Trapped in the dark, the colleagues must put aside their bitter rivalries and work together to solve cryptic clues to break free. But as the game begins to reveal the team’s darkest secrets, they realize there’s a price to be paid for the terrible deeds they committed in their ruthless climb up the corporate ladder. As tempers fray, and the clues turn deadly, they must solve one final chilling puzzle: which one of them will kill in order to survive?

 

My Thoughts: Something strange has been going on at Stanhope, and the players in a suspenseful conspiracy are about to find out the price of their secrets and heinous games.

In alternating chapters, we meet the players in a team building game called The Escape Room, but as the players try to figure out the clues, we soon learn that there is much more at stake.

Sara Hall is an alternating character whose story gripped me from the beginning. She had tried hard to get the job at Stanhope, but she never quite fit into the circle, and another character, Lucy, who was brilliant but not one to interact socially, would soon find out what could happen to someone who knows too many secrets.

Rapidly turning pages, it took a while to figure out the layers of the game or the master controlling them all, but when I finally did, I was elated by the beauty of it. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE FRIENDS WE KEEP, BY JANE GREEN

 

Evvie, Maggie, and Topher have known one another since college. Their friendship was something they swore would last forever. Now years have passed, the friends have drifted apart, and they never found the lives they wanted—the lives they dreamed of when they were young and everything seemed possible.

Evvie starved herself to become a supermodel but derailed her career by sleeping with a married man.

Maggie married Ben, the boy she fell in love with in college, never imagining the heartbreak his drinking would cause.

Topher became a successful actor, but the shame of a childhood secret shut him off from real intimacy.

By their thirtieth reunion, these old friends have lost touch with one another and with the people they dreamed of becoming. Together again, they have a second chance at happiness…until a dark secret is revealed that changes everything.

 

My Thoughts: I was definitely in the mood for The Friends We Keep, as there is something so heartfelt about Jane Green’s friendship tales. I also love how she paints pictures of the settings, the food, and the events in a way that makes me feel as if I’m there with the characters.

A story that spans decades, this book shows the characters as they struggle, as they soar during the good times, and then how their feelings of betrayal come to the forefront when dark secrets are revealed.

In the end, the friendships are tested in a familiar way, and we are left with good feelings, even though real life would have given them more challenges along the way. An enjoyable read that earned 4.5 stars from me, despite the predictable elements.

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REVIEW: I’LL NEVER TELL, BY CATHERINE MCKENZIE

 

Twenty years ago, she was found bludgeoned in a rowboat at the MacAllister family’s Camp Macaw. No one was ever charged with the crime.

Now, after their parents’ sudden deaths, the MacAllister siblings return to camp to read the will and decide what to do with the prime real estate the camp occupies. Ryan needs to sell. Margaux hasn’t made up her mind. Mary believes in leaving well enough alone. Kate and Liddie—the twins—have opposing views. And Sean Booth, the groundskeeper, just hopes he still has a home when all is said and done.

But it’s more complicated than a simple vote. The will stipulates that until they unravel the mystery of what happened to Amanda, they can’t settle the estate. Any one of them could have done it, and each one is holding a piece of the puzzle. Will they work together to finally discover the truth, or will their secrets finally tear the family apart?

My Thoughts: As we wend our way through the events of one summer, we are shown Amanda’s thoughts on that crucial night, and offered bits and pieces of what happened to her.The MacAllisters are a big dysfunctional family, with dark secrets held by each of them, so it is no surprise that, in the pages of I’ll Never Tell, we begin to sort through a lot of history in order to put the pieces together. But even as I picked out my “favorite culprit,” as time went by, there were clues pointing elsewhere. The stunning reveal in the final pages changed everything for the family, but because of their family motto to keep secrets, the answers were not made public.

In the end, it was clear how the family ties kept them all competitive and secretive, locked away in the darkness of their guilt and fear. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: I INVITED HER IN, BY ADELE PARKS

 

Imagine the worst thing a friend could ever do.

This is worse.

When Mel receives an unexpected email from her oldest friend Abi, it brings back memories she thought she had buried forever. Their friendship belonged in the past. To those carefree days at university.

But Abi is in trouble and needs Mel’s help, and she wants a place to stay. Just for a few days, while she sorts things out. It’s the least Mel can do.

After all, friends look out for each other, don’t they?

My Thoughts: I Invited Her In opened to cozy scenes in the home of Ben and Melanie Harrison. They have settled into a suburb an hour from London, with Liam, Melanie’s 17-year-old son, and Imogene and Lily, their children together. Melanie loves her life, but when she gets the email from her university friend Abigail Curtiz, she is curious and intrigued.

Abigail arrives on the scene full of chatter and delicious treats, and the two women catch up on the years they were apart. Abi’s broken marriage has brought her to a sad place but remembering the good times will help…so she insists.

But soon Ben is anxious for the interloper to go. He misses his cozy times with Mel and the kids, and he doesn’t have a good feeling about Abi’s intentions.

Melanie is still eager for the party to continue…but then things begin to happen that are disturbing and uncomfortable. Soon she sees her old friend for who she truly is.

What secrets from the past will reveal more about Abi’s intentions, and how will Melanie find peace and family time again?

A stunning surprise at the end changed the tone of the story, but even with that snippet, I couldn’t help but really hate Abigail and her plots and evil plans, while rooting for Mel’s happy ending. A 5 star read.

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REVIEW: WINTER IN PARADISE, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

 

Irene Steele shares her idyllic life in a beautiful Iowa City Victorian house with a husband who loves her to sky-writing, sentimental extremes. But as she rings in the new year one cold and snowy night, everything she thought she knew falls to pieces with a shocking phone call: her beloved husband, away on business, has been killed in a plane crash. Before Irene can even process the news, she must first confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death on the distant Caribbean island of St. John.

After Irene and her sons arrive at this faraway paradise, they make yet another shocking discovery: her husband had been living a secret life. As Irene untangles a web of intrigue and deceit, and as she and her sons find themselves drawn into the vibrant island culture, they have to face the truth about their family, and about their own futures.

 

My Thoughts: As the story opens with Irene enjoying her beautiful home and her job with Heartland Home & Style magazine, a feeling of foreboding tells us that everything she holds dear will soon be put to the test.

Meanwhile, her sons Baker and Cash are being challenged in their own ways: Cash is facing reversals in his business and Baker’s marriage is on the rocks.

The phone call that changes their lives takes them on a plane to the Virgin Islands, to a place they might have loved visiting under other circumstances.

How will Irene and her sons deal with the death of their husband and father? What will they discover about the secret life he was living?

In alternating narratives, we learn more about the islanders who are now part of Irene’s story: Huck, a ship captain and stepfather to Rosie, who now has become part of their lives; Ayers Wilson, Rosie’s best friend; and Maia, the twelve-year-old girl who has lost her mother.

Set against the backdrop of the island retreat, Winter in Paradise captured my heart with the sadness, the joy of the setting, the delicious foods that tease our taste buds, and the sense of betrayal dealt by Russell, who is no longer alive to explain himself.

Just below the surface is the sense of a mystery, and as Irene reminisces about her life with Russell, she tries to piece together what signs she might have missed along the way. At the very end, however, another tidbit of information from the authorities adds a startling conclusion. Since this book is number one in a new series, I look forward to more from these characters. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: PIECES OF HER, BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

 

Andrea Cooper knows everything about her mother Laura. She’s knows she’s spent her whole life in the small beachside town of Gullaway Island; she knows she’s never wanted anything more than to live a quiet life as a pillar of the community; she knows she’s never kept a secret in her life. Because we all know our mothers, don’t we?

But all that changes when a Saturday afternoon trip to the mall explodes into violence and Andrea suddenly sees a completely different side to Laura. Because it turns out that before Laura was Laura, she was someone completely different. For nearly thirty years she’s been hiding from her previous identity, lying low in the hope that no one will ever find her. But now she’s been exposed, and nothing will ever be the same again.

Twenty-four hours later Laura is in the hospital, shot by an intruder who’s spent thirty years trying to track her down and discover what she knows. Andrea is on a desperate journey following the breadcrumbs of her mother’s past. And if she can’t uncover the secrets hidden there, there may be no future for either one of them. . . .

My Thoughts: I was drawn into Pieces of Her because I loved the premise of the chasm between mothers and daughters, and how they keep parts of themselves hidden, even from those they love.

In her daughter Andrea’s eyes, Laura Oliver has had an ordinary existence, but then a violent episode in the mall drastically changes that view. Afterwards, Laura tells her daughter she needs to move out, now that she is thirty-one, and make it on her own. Blindsided by her mother’s actions, both at the mall and then afterwards, Andrea resists.

But suddenly something even more troubling happens a day later that sends Andrea on a quest to find answers. Her mother has given her very specific guidelines of where to go, and how to stay safe. Everything about these actions changes not only her view of her mother, but of her own existence.

I found this part of the novel intriguing, as Andrea tried to stay ahead of the danger, but kept finding herself in the midst of it because she had forgotten to do one or two of the things her mother had suggested.

Obviously Laura had quite a journey in her younger years, but it will take Andrea’s numerous and sometimes dangerous efforts to learn what her mother had done back then…and how she managed to survive.

The story also reminded me a little of other cults we saw in the 70s and 80s, and how the groups depend on the leadership of charismatic and dangerous men.

Who was Laura Oliver, and what were her defining moments? How did she manage to escape, and what did she still need to do to protect her daughter. An engaging read. 4.5 stars.

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