Karen Dionne: The Wicked Sister

This is an excellent suspense novel, so excellent that I devoured it in a single day.  It gives a reader plenty to think about – but that’s after you’ve careened through it’s pages.  I absolutely could not stop reading.

Set in Michigan’s beautiful upper peninsula, the book alternates narratives between that of Rachel’s, in the present, and that of Jenny’s and Peter’s in the past.  It’s not immediately clear how the two connect but when they do, you really can’t look away.   Rachel is living in a mental hospital for killing her mother at age 11 and watching as her father then killed himself.  She has no memory of these events. read more

Susan Allott: The Silence

This is a very melancholy novel about people who live near each other, yet in isolation, thanks to a profound lack of communication.   It’s set in Australia in the late 60’s, with a portion in the late 90’s.  Two couples live side by side in a new neighborhood, right on the ocean.  Louise and Joe, immigrants from England, live in one house with their daughter, Isla.  Next door are Steve and Mandy, who are childless.  Mandy often looks after Isla.

As the book opens, the adult Isla gets a call from her father, who says the police have been by to discuss Mandy, who had disappeared from the neighborhood many years ago.  The central nugget of suspense in the novel concerns the relationships between the neighbors and between the couples themselves.  What happened in the past that caused Mandy to disappear?  Why would Isla’s father, who seems devoted to his family, have had anything to do with her disappearance? read more

Julia Spencer-Fleming: Hid from Our Eyes

If you’re a fan of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s, you’ll be delighted to know that Hid From Our Eyes picks up right where One Was a Soldier left off.  Since it’s been awhile I’ll recap: Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband Russ Van Alstyne have welcomed their first child (read the book to find out the child’s name and sex).  Clare is in addiction recovery, and believably – for anyone familiar with addiction – she teeters from sober to wishing she wasn’t.  That’s the rich background. read more

Carol Goodman: The Sea of Lost Girls

Carol Goodman’s luscious prose doesn’t mask her storytelling drive, and it’s a haunting and unforgettable combination.  The Sea of Lost Girls is set at a girl’s boarding school in Maine, centering on the family of Tess, Harmon and Rudy.  Tess and Harmon both work at the school; Rudy is Tess’s son and Harmon’s stepson, as well as a student at the school. The book kicks off with him texting his mother in the middle of the night, and she rushes off to find out what’s wrong.

As a reader, I was instantly drawn into the dynamic between Tess and her son, who has had some troubles but whom she loves fiercely.  Her greatest goal is that of any mother’s: to protect him.  And, as it turns out, he needs it.  His girlfriend, Lila, whom he had been fighting with, turns up dead the next morning and suspicion falls on both Rudy and Harmon in turn. read more

Lori Rader-Day: The Lucky One

The Lucky One follows the stories of Alice Fine, who as a child emerged unscathed from a kidnapping, and Merrily Cruz, who wants badly to find her missing father – or the closest approximation to a father that she’s known.  Rader-Day, in her typical fashion, fleshes out these women’s stories with psychological background to each character, building and building them, until the two women practically become real.

Alice’s obsession with her kidnapping leads her to a website called The Doe Pages, where people are searching for the lost.  She’s drawn to it and she also thinks maybe she can find her kidnapper there.  Her life is a little shut off – she’s broken up with her fiancée and she lives alone.  She works in the office of the family construction company, with her father and uncle as benevolent bosses.  The women on the Doe Pages, strangers, become acquaintances, then friends. read more

Sophie Hannah: Perfect Little Children

There’s a classic French novel called Le Grand Meaulnes, which is basically in two parts. The first is about a runaway schoolboy who stumbles into a marvelous, fairy tale experience in an isolated, ancient mansion in the countryside. The second half is the prosaic, logical explanation of this seemingly magic occurrence and the resulting quotidian grind of real life. In a way it’s satisfying to know what really happened, but in another way you want to rip the book in two and throw the ending out of the window. Or in the words of the marvelously named Sacheverell Sitwell, “In the end, it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.” read more

Kate Atkinson: Big Sky

It’s been a long wait for the new Jackson Brodie novel. Kate Atkinson was writing Life After Life and other literary hits. But her unlucky-in-love, tough-but-soft-hearted P.I. is back. This time Jackson’s 13-year-old son Nathan is staying with him on Yorkshire’s east coast while his mother Julia, Jackson’s former flame, acts in a TV crime series. Jackson’s daughter Marlee is now a law graduate and about to be a bride. Jackson does “dog work for solicitors—debt tracing, surveillance, and so on.” He also documents adulterous couples. read more

Hank Phillippi Ryan: The Murder List

What makes a thriller good?  What makes one stand out from the pack of – let’s be honest – the many, many books at the moment about women in jeopardy who have lost their memories or are unreliable narrators or have terrible husbands?  Let’s start with the main character.  Lawyer in training Rachel North has none of those problems.  Her memory is intact and her husband seems like a doll in a Red Sox cap.  She seems reliable and balanced.  She’s just – in a situation.

Thrillers need to be plotted like clockwork, without the gears showing to the reader.  So someone as gifted as Hank Phillippi Ryan can introduce many characters onto her canvas, turn the wheel of the plot, and a previously introduced character will unexpectedly show up where you least expect it.  Gears at work here, but not on display.  Masterful. read more

Melanie Golding: Little Darlings

This book was a non stop read of the creepy psychological variety. The book opens with Lauren and her husband Patrick in the hospital as Lauren gives birth to twin boys, Riley and Morgan. While initially Lauren is afraid she won’t love them, that fear is quickly dispelled, but it’s replaced by a more disturbing fear: someone is trying to take the babies.

There’s an epigraph at the beginning of each chapter that grounds the book in the idea of the changeling, an ancient folkloric concept that the real baby is taken and replaced by an elf baby or an ice baby or in Lauren’s case, a river baby. And if this was the straight up thrust of the novel, it would have been almost a cliché. read more

Elly Griffiths: The Stranger Diaries

This is a banner week for us as we add two new reviewers!  The second is our daughter Margaret. who unsurprisingly is a big mystery fan, and one of her favorites is Elly Griffiths.  Welcome, Margaret!

Elly Griffiths, author of two mystery series, takes a stab at stand alone fiction with The Stranger Diaries. This novel brings us a modern-day gothic horror story while keeping solidly grounded in tradition. Instead of a castle or drafty mansion, there is an old school with secrets. Instead of a threatening lord of the manor, characters are menaced by fellow teachers and students. There is a ghost story in the background of the novel, and a mystery concerning the true identity of someone long dead. Delightfully, the novel’s three heroines are not quite so traditional. read more