What I Read: June 2021

C.L. Taylor: Her Last Holiday

Two years ago, Fran’s sister Jenna disappeared on a wellness retreat in Gozo that went terribly wrong.Tom Wade, the now infamous man behind Soul Shrink Retreats, has just been released from prison after serving his sentence for the deaths of two people. But he has never let on what happened to the third victim: Jenna.Determined to find out the truth, Fran books herself onto his upcoming retreat – the first since his release – and finds herself face to face with the man who might hold the key to her sister’s disappearance. The only question is, will she escape the retreat alive? Or does someone out there want Jenna’s secrets to stay hidden?

So I really enjoyed the set up and how this book jumped back and forth to the past and present. The first part of the book was very good, I really liked it. But then I started having multiple issues with the story. There were too many characters, some of who were the same in the past and present but had different names which I found very confusing. Not to mention they were all pretty unlikeable. Also, not a big issue but I had a problem with the timing and the ages. I don’t know if it’s just me or if the characters were written that way, but I couldn’t see Jenna as 37 and Fran as 51. I did find the length a bit much and there were also some subplots going on that I could have done without. The ending really wasn’t for me. It felt a bit too convenient, far fetched and rushed. An ok read but nothing to be excited about.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

ashley Audrain: The Push

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had. But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do. Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

What a twisty story. A story about mothering, scars from the past and how the past can affect out present. Readers learn that Blythe comes from a dysfunctional family with a mother and grandmother who also had difficulties embracing motherhood. Flashbacks of these experiences appear throughout the entire book and raise the question: Is it possible to be a “good mother” if your own mother (and grandmother) were not positive role models? This psychological drama is written as a sort of letter from a woman to her ex-husband, in which she promises to tell her side of what turns out to be a very dark story. Each chapter is quick and shoots straight to the point, even when things get ugly.  This was a very unusual read for me, I’m not a mother and I don’t usually tend to choose books like this but this one was very interesting for me as it’s psychological. It really kept me on the edge of my seat. Also because I’m not a mother I wasn’t as upset with certain things in the book but I have to warn you, this book is not for everyone. At times it’s really uncomfortable, brutally honest, raw, emotional, chilling and dark. This book will stay with me for a very long time.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ 💫

Laura dave: The Last thing he told me

Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother. As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realises her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared. Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realise they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

I discovered this book through Reese Witherspoon’s book club and I thought it was a thriller…But, this is definitely a domestic suspense, not a thriller, so expect this to focus on the relationships between the characters as they reveal their true selves, with a dash of mystery. Told in two timelines – one with brief flashbacks to the past, which gives us context and a fuller picture of Hannah and Owen’s life together, and the second is in the present when Hannah and Bailey are forced to work together to find out the truth about Owen. Hannah is smart and intuitive in how she deals with Bailey and their relationship was one of my favourite things about the story. Even though usually I’m not a big fan of domestic thrillers, this one kept me hooked. Can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the ending though but I guess it’s the only logical option. Recommended for those who love character-driven domestic mysteries that are still strong on plot. If you enjoy smartly written, strong, intelligent women protagonists, you will love Hannah.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐💫

alex michaelides: The maidens

Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens. Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.  Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships.

It did take me a while to warm to this story at first. I think it’s because I found its initial buildup to be a little slow. There was a fair amount of background information to introduce, and also a lot of references to Greek mythology and psychotherapy, which I’m not super familiar with. Also, you will have to suspend your need for a believable, realistic investigation, as Mariana does things in ways that would never fly in real life. But once it got going, the pacing tightened up and I was hooked, all the way until the very end. Now, to everyone who loved The Silent Patient, the author’s previous book, be warned this is not The Silent Patient 2.0 and it’s much more a slow burn. But the book is filled with red herrings and it’s written very well. I loved the short chapters and atmospheric Cambridge. As for the ending, I suspected part of it at one point or another, but was genuinely surprised by another aspect of it. That was a treat! There is also a brief tie-in to The Silent Patient that I thought was really clever.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

megan goldin: the escape room

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 challenge 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 realise 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?

I picked up this book just because I read Goldin’s The Night Swim and I loved it so much. This book was completely different. The book alternates chapters with these four, stuck in an elevator, and with the narration of Sara Hall, one of their co-workers from years ago, who died sometime in the past. During the chapters concerning the people in the elevator, we get to know a lot about each of the people who are trapped. I did not care about though because it was basically massive amounts of information on each person’s past that did nothing to make us care for them or understand what made them such horrible people. I have to admit I skipped through some pages. I loved Sara chapters though and if it wasn’t for that my rating would have been lower. The writing at many times seemed repetitive with lots of side stories that were introduced but never really completed. The ending was very good but you really have to suspend all believability here.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

sarah alderson: in her eyes

Ava’s life is the kind other people envy: loving husband; great kids; beautiful house. Until the night that a violent home invasion plunges her world into chaos. In the aftermath of the attack, Ava needs answers to two questions. Who has targeted her family? And why? But things aren’t adding up. She is starting to suspect that someone knows more than they are letting on. That everything she thought she knew about the people closest to her was a lie. Ava needs to know what happened that night. And to do that she must decide who she can really trust. Because she’s about to discover that her family is in more danger than she ever imagined…

This is a fast paced book full of twists and turns. The story is good but…The start had so much promise – I was hooked by the burglary and the secrets that start pouring out from Ava’s life. But toward the end of the book, things took too many unrealistic turns. I wanted a better explanation and for the events to make some sort of sense. But unfortunately, I didn’t get that. Also, I really don’t like overly naive female characters. Ava started to annoy me so much as the book progressed. Overall, an easy read and even though it was a little bit far fetched I still found it enjoyable.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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