Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman

When Malin Ahlberg starts her freshman year at Hawthorne College in rural Maine, she is immediately befriended by a group of freshman who are brought together by chance during their first few days as new students.  Malin, along with Gemma, Ruby, Max, John and Khaled remain a tight-knit group throughout their four years at Hawthorne, but their years together are marked by drama, suspicion, betrayal and, ultimately, murder.  Tell Me Everything  by Cambria Brockman is a psychological thriller with a unsettling and, frankly, disturbing series of events with an ending that is literally jaw-dropping!

Malin tells her story in alternating chapters with gradual glimpses of problems at home with her family,  most notably with her brother who passed away years earlier.  She always stops short of revealing too much,  so the reader is left with more questions than answers as the anticipation grows.  What is she hiding from her past?  She replicates this secrecy with her current group of friends, not letting anyone know the real Malin.  To be honest, Malin is not a very endearing or likeable character.  As I was reading Tell Me Everything, I could tell pretty quickly that something was clearly not right with Malin, but Brockman has a great way of keeping the reader on their toes!

As the years progress, it becomes apparent that Malin is choreographing many of the dramas, misinterpretations and misunderstandings between the group.  While stirring the pot, it becomes clear that she enjoys watching the drama unfold.  The crescendo of both plot lines (family drama as a child and currently at Hawthorne) comes together seamlessly with not only one but two murders that are equally disturbing.

I highly recommend Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman.  I cannot guarantee that you will be a fan of some of the characters, but this is a well-written and suspenseful debut.  I am impressed with Brockman’s first book and am excited to see what she comes up with next!

 

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

Publishing executive Chloe Taylor has the perfect life in Alafair Burke’s new stand alone thriller, The Better Sister.  Chloe’s career is on an upward trajectory, her husband, Adam, is a successful attorney and their son, Ethan,  is thriving as a high school student.  Splitting their time between New York City and their second home on Long Island, the family is the envy of all their friends.  But, the truth behind the facade tells a very different tale.

In reality, Chloe has had a strained relationship with her family for decades, especially her sister, Nicky, with whom she has been estranged since Ethan was a toddler.   Nicky has long struggled with jumping from men to men and job to job and has continued to make bad choice after bad choice.  Most who know Chloe and Adam would be shocked to learn that Adam was married to Nicky years ago and she is actually Ethan’s biological mother.

Shockingly, Adam is found dead in the family’s Long Island home, the victim of a burglary gone wrong.  Or was the attack more personal and the burglary just a cover?  When police believe the culprit may be someone within the family, the sisters put their past differences aside and come together.  The sisters must face their current troubles by revealing and acknowledging the deceptions in the past.

The Better Sister  is a highly recommended read and is another thrill ride from Alafair Burke.  It would appeal to readers of Ruth Ware, Clare Mackintosh, Gillian Flynn  or Laura Lippman.

 

 

That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron

If you could read a book and get a glimpse into another society, would you? By reading fiction books, I will often find a topic that intrigues me that will then push me to read a nonfiction book about the same topic. It’s an enjoyable cycle! Historical fiction is one of the biggest genres that leads me to nonfiction books. I love fact-checking the fiction book to see how closely the author wrote to what happened in real life. Historical fiction that focuses on remarkable women is one of my favorites. Stephanie Barron’s latest works falls under this category.

That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron chronicles the life of one of history’s most remarkable, controversial, and influential women: Winston Churchill’s scandalous American mother, Jennie Jerome. Jennie was born in Brooklyn to a prosperous American financier father and a mother with high social ambitions for both herself and her daughters. Eventually ending up in Europe with her mother and siblings after a scandal rocked her parents, Jennie realizes that she is responsible for securing her own destiny. Jennie is wealthy, privileged, and raised by her father to be fiercely independent. The moment she landed in Victorian England, Jennie and her family took the area by storm.

Jennie runs into Lord Randolph Churchill at a party and decides she wants to marry him when she is just nineteen years old. The shocker? They have only known each other for three days when Jennie decides to marry him. Once they are married, she is instantly swept into a crazy whirlwind of British politics and the social climbers that surround Bertie, Prince of Wales. Jennie is now the new Lady Randolph Churchill, a brash American woman who thinks for herself and is careless of English society rules. She becomes a London sensation, traveling without her husband to Marlborough House and gathering admirers and critics along the way. Since Jennie knows about politics and is also a gifted piano player, she uses her talents to begin shaping her husband’s rise in Parliament. Jennie is also widely known as the mother of Winston Churchill. She uses her talents to help navigate Winston’s journey into manhood. He had a difficult childhood, but Jennie made sure to be at his side.

As the Churchill family becomes more influential, scandal and tragedy begin to strike them. Jennie has had lovers besides her husband, but none mean as much to her as Count Charles Kinsky. Kinsky is a man who loves horses like she does  and passionately loves Jennie the way her husband can’t. Once Bertie, Prince of Wales, catches wind of their affair, Jennie is forced to rethink their love as she quickly realizes just how much her every move is judged in public. She must decide how to balance duty and desire, a choice which has consequences that ripple across the Atlantic. Jennie’s decision takes her to a new level of scandal as her children’s lives and all of those around her are greatly affected. This novel is a loving portrait of a woman who helped shape the Churchill era. Jennie’s legacy may be of a difficult and scandalous woman, but the balancing act she works out between obligation, desire, duty, love, and freedom is a testament to the soul of a woman who through sheer force of will was able to alter the course of history.

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao

Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao is the story of two young girls who are trying to find their place in a world that values men higher than women. Poornima and Savitha are the eldest girls in their respective families in India. Chance leads the girls together where they strike up a once-in-a-lifetime friendship. Poornima’s mother died when she was young, leaving her to fill the mother role to all of her younger siblings long before she was actually ready to fulfill it. Working hard to help her father provide for the family, Poornima quickly realizes that even though her family isn’t dirt poor, they’re still scraping by. To help supplement their income, Poornima’s father hires Savitha to work one of their sari looms, thus allowing Poornima’s family to bring in more money while also giving Savitha money for hers. Poornima and Savitha begin to turn to each other for comfort. Savitha’s family is more impoverished than Poornima’s, but Savitha quickly shows Poornima how to find joy and beauty in the little day to day parts of life. Savitha’s infectious personality finally allows Poornima to imagine the possibility of a fulfilling life beyond the arranged marriage her father is so desperately looking for her to fill.

Just when Poornima and Savitha have reached a comfortable rhythm, a devastating act of cruelty and violence occurs that destroys their newfound joy. As a result, Savitha is ruined and driven away from their small village. Poornima is wrecked and decides to do everything in her power to find Savitha, so they can live a happy life together. Poornima’s journey takes her away from everything that she is accustomed to and everything that she holds dear. Poornima finds herself searching India’s dark underworld for any sign of Savitha. Willing to do anything to find her, Poornima goes on a journey across India and even ends up traveling to the United States.

This novel alternates between both Poornima and Savitha’s perspectives. They have never lost hope that they will eventually find each other, even when circumstances turn dangerous. Rao tackles many urgent issues facing women across the world: immigration, feminism, human trafficking, and domestic abuse, just to name a few. These issues provide a solid foundation for Rao to explore how friendship and the will to survive can help women work towards a better, more hopeful future.


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Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

Cross Her Heart is another hit for author Sarah Pinborough (after another great novel, Behind Her Eyes).  Written in alternate chapters by different characters, Cross Her Heart  is a fabulous addition to the psychological suspense genre.  Taking place in present day Britain, single mother Lisa is overly cautious and very protective of her teenage daughter, Ava.  Ava is annoyed at her mother’s clingy nature, which only increases when she is in the company of her friends, whose parents are much more trusting of their own children.

Lisa’s life consists of work and her home life with Ava.  Her nights out are few and far between and they are usually with a close co-worker, Marilyn, and her husband, Richard.  But, unbeknownst to anyone who knows her,  Lisa’s life is starting to unravel when glimmers from her past begin to emerge.  She  wakes up every day with panic that her past will come back to haunt her carefully constructed life.  But Lisa isn’t the only one with secrets.  Ava has also been keeping secrets from her mother and is involved with someone older who says they care for her, or do they?

While attending a town festival, Ava rescues a toddler from a near tragedy and the fanfare that develops around Lisa and her daughter has catastrophic results for the two of them.  Someone recognizes Lisa and the life she has built for herself and her daughter is in jeopardy.  Both Lisa and Ava are at danger and Lisa leans on her trusty friend Marilyn for support.  With asking Marilyn for help, also means that Lisa has to be completely honest with her which could put everyone at risk.

The twists and turns in Cross Her Heart are fast and jaw dropping.  If you love this genre, Sarah Pinborough is a great author to check out.

 

 

 

Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak

In college, I read primarily romance novels, but now that I work in a library surrounded by an infinite number of books, I find that I’m straying away from those old comforts. In an effort to reintroduce myself to romance novels, I have been reading a lot of ‘romantic suspense’ by Sandra Brown and other authors. I recently found Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak and decided to give this romantic suspense author a try.

Before We Were Strangers by Brenda Novak tells the story of how far one woman is willing to go to dig up her family’s dark secrets. Sloane McBride’s mother disappeared when she was five. Something happened to her mother the night she left, but no one wants to talk about it. Sloane was in the house the night her mom left and heard some things that she believes could have to do with her mother’s disappearance. Sloane heard her parents arguing and the things they were talking about made her skin crawl. In the midst of their arguing, a thump reverberated throughout the house. After that noise, the house went completely quiet. The next morning, Sloane discovered that her mother was gone. According to her father, her mother left and was never coming back.

Her father insisted that her mother just up and left, a situation that doesn’t sit well with Sloane given what she overheard that night and the fact that her mother was very loving and devoted to her two children. After their mother left, Sloane and her brother are raised by their strict and domineering father in their small Texas hometown. Desperate to escape, Sloane moves out of the town as soon as she turns eighteen and eventually ends up working as a model in New York. Despite all the distance between Texas and New York, Sloane is still haunted by what could have happened to her mother.

Thinking herself strong enough to stand up to her father and brother now that she has been away for ten years, Sloane decides to head back to Texas to finally find out the truth of what happened to her mother. Returning to this small town means that Sloane has to deal with her jilted ex-boyfriend, an angry best friend, a disappointed brother, and a father who will do anything to keep her from finding the truth. The more Sloane digs into her mother’s disappearance, the more dark family secrets she uncovers. As she learns more about what happened, Sloane is left to wonder how much of a coverup went into hiding what happened to her mother and just how each person she is investigating fits into this mysterious puzzle.


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Watching You by Lisa Jewell

I am a huge fan of mystery and psychological thrillers and Watching You by Lisa Jewell is a fabulous addition to the genre.  The twists and turns in this thriller will keep you guessing until literally the last paragraph.  The book begins with a murder in an affluent English town but the reader does not know the who, what, when, where or how.  With an opening such as this, the tension grows and every character’s motivations are suspect until the true killer is revealed.

Newlyweds Joey Mullen and her husband Alfie have just moved to the exclusive neighborhood of Melville Heights in Bristol, England.  Unable to afford rent on their own, they take up residence with Joey’s brother and sister-in-law.  As a newcomer in the neighborhood, Joey befriends Tom Fitzwilliam, the beloved local school headmaster who lives two doors away and her initial friendship turns quickly from infatuation to obsession.  But, unbeknownst to Joey,  someone is watching through their photographic lens.  It is Tom’s teenage son, Freddie, who documents the goings on in Melville Heights and sees the blossoming relationship his dad is starting with Joey.

But Joey isn’t the only person in this neighborhood who is obsessed with Tom Fitzwilliam.  Bess, a young student at the school, is observed slipping in and out of the headmaster’s office by Jenna, another teen in the neighborhood and the speculation grows.  Does Tom have secrets to hide?   To add to the intrigue Jenna’s mother is convinced a group of neighbors, headed by Fitzwilliam, is stalking her.  Young Freddie and Jenna join forces and with their prying eyes discover a decades old suicide which will bring motivations for murder to light.  Everyone has a reason, but who is willing to kill in order to keep a secret and enact revenge?

About half way throughout the book I thought I knew the ending, but I was completely shocked at the culprit and the twisted motivations behind the killing.  I highly recommend Watching You for suspense and thriller fans!

 

 

 

 

 

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a writer that never fails me. I know when I pick up one of her books, there’s a very good chance I will enjoy it. I recently finished her newest book, A Spark of Light, and found myself hooked from beginning to end. I seldom recommend you read a book over listening to it, but for this book, I recommend doing just that. My reason? This book is told backwards. If you have a somewhat short attention span(like I do), you might miss the verbal announcement of when they go to a different hour.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult takes on provocative issues in this book. Picoult shows that each issue presented needs alternate viewpoints in order to see the full truth. Trigger warning: this book deals with topics of abortion, gun violence, racism, and mentions rape and incest. These topics are all timely, presented equally, and are certainly worthy of debate in any society.

Morning begins like any other at the Center. Staff open the women’s reproductive health services clinic to a wide variety of people who need care. Whether you need abortions, birth control, cancer screenings, wellness checks, etc., the Center is there to help. The fact that the Center even exists is controversial, with demonstrators barricading the road and building every day trying to derail, confuse, and degrade the people who need the Center’s help.

Everything comes to a screeching halt when a single protestor makes his way into the Center armed with a gun and takes everyone hostage. Seeing events unfold from the viewpoints of staff, visitors, and patients allows readers to better understand their reasons for behaving the way they do. Unraveling the day backward hour by hour, this novel starts at the tensest moment with Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, negotiating for the release of all inside the Center. The gunman, negotiator, doctors, nurses, and women who have come to the Center have their lives examined as we start at their lowest point and move back.

Each person with ties to the Center is equally fascinating. A police hostage negotiator is trying to work when his phone vibrates and his heart stops. His teenage daughter and his older sister are trapped in the clinic alongside a pro-life protestor disguised as a patient, a doctor working seemingly in opposition to his faith, a nurse attempting to calm her panic to save a wounded woman, a young woman there to end a pregnancy, an older woman who needs help understanding some devastating news she received, and the armed hostage taker who just wants someone to listen to what he has to say.

Even though this novel is told backward, the story unravels naturally as each characters’ lives are slowly peeled away. Readers are privy to the complexities involved in trying to balance the right to life with the right to choose as the reasonings for each person’s trip to the Center is slowly revealed.


This book is available in the following formats:

Vox by Christina Dalcher

This book was all over reading lists before it even came out. When Vox was released, the hype grew even bigger. What I discovered when reading reviews of this book was that people either really loved or didn’t like it. I firmly fall in the ‘love it’ category and I hope you all like it as well.

Vox by Christina Dalcher runs in a similar vein of The Handmaid’s Tale as another example of a specific segment of the population being silenced/put into service by a different group. While reading this book, I noticed that I was growing increasingly agitated at the restrictions placed on women.

Jean McLellan is a cognitive linguist. Happily married with four children, Jean lives a pleasant life. Her husband Patrick is the science advisor to the President and seems to have an inside track to what’s happening. With the rise of the ‘Pure’ religious movement, Jean quickly realizes her basic freedoms are starting to be taken away. When the ‘Pure’ movement succeeds in infiltrating the government, Jean knows she’s in trouble.  She saw the signs, but failed to respond appropriately. Women representation in government is decreasing, the ‘pure’ religion is gaining traction, and female freedoms are being lost at an increasing rate. Jean did nothing. Her friends and family warned her and pleaded with her to do something, but Jean continuously believed that America would never go very far. She was wrong.

One day, all women were fitted with a bracelet snapped around their wrist that worked as a word counter. This permanent bracelet limited them to 100 words per day. 100! ALL DAY! That’s it. Don’t even try to go over 100 because each over will result in severe consequences. The ‘pure’ movement controls all. Religion has a higher say than science. As a result, Jean, as a linguist specialist, is very worried about what would happen to women the longer they are silenced and limited to 100 words.

Having somewhat adjusted to this horrible new normal, Jean is startled when she is approached by the President’s men saying her professional services are required. Meeting with the powers that be, Jean is told that the President’s brother has suffered a severe brain injury that impacts his ability to use language. Jean, plus some of her previous work colleagues, are needed to research a way to help him. Obviously Jean leverages her unique skill set to negotiate a deal in her favor. Jean is now in a position to help the female population, but has to do so sneakily. Complications ensue (obviously). Once Jean is reunited with her previous colleagues, they must race against time to solve the problem presented. Jean’s past plays a large role in her decision to behave the way she does with the overall message in the book being: use your voice before they take it away.


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The Death of Mrs Westaway by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware knows how to write a novel full of twists. Bonus: if you listen to the audiobook version of really any of her books, you will be treated to some pretty neat accents. The Death of Mrs. Westaway, her latest book, is dark, dramatic, mysterious, and full of family drama.

Hal reads tarot cards on Brighton pier, a job that does not pay the bills very well. This makes it hard for her to afford food, rent, etc. Hal’s mother used to read tarot cards, so after she died a few years earlier, Hal easily slipped into the job she had watched her mother do for years. Struggling to make ends meet, Hal is at her wits end when a mysterious letter arrives detailing that she has been bequeathed a large inheritance. Reading said letter, Hal knows that this can’t possible be true, but the timing of the letter seems like a gift. She decides to accept the inheritance and head to the giant, cold, and gloomy Trepassen house. Leaving for Trepassen, Hal knows that doing so is a mistake. Having taken a loan from a loan shark with massive interest, Hal also knows that she has no other options to even begin paying back what she owes without taking this inheritance. Onward she goes.

Traveling down to the English coast, Hal pours over the letter looking for clues about the family that she is heading to meet. She is at a loss as to how to introduce herself, but knows that the cold-reading skills she has honed as a tarot card reader should help her claim the money and trick the others. Arriving amidst rain, Hal is led into the funeral of the deceased. Observing family and friends, Hal begins to feel that something is off with the whole situation. Something is just not right.

Following the family back to Trepassen house, Hal gets her first look at this massive, cold, and dour house. Just looking at the place, Hal feels like there are many, many secrets hidden within the walls. The family is both tight-lipped and easy to share, a concept that throws Hal off. Left to sleep in a tiny bedroom at the very top of the house by herself, Hal and the others begin to sort through the messiness of the deceased’s will. As they get further and further involved, the wrongness that Hal initially felt grows stronger as the situation begins to spiral more out of her control. Not knowing who to trust nor who is telling the truth, Hal begins her own investigation into what is really happening. This novel reads like a bit of a detective story with Ware knowing how to spin a crafty and spooky atmosphere rich with crime, gothic, and murderous twists.


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