Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

“The world might indeed be a cursed circle; the snake swallowed its tail and there could be no end, only an eternal ruination and endless devouring.”

If you are looking for an uncanny and spine-chilling read for Halloween, you won’t want to miss Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico in the 1950s, young socialite Noemi Taboada is asked to visit her cousin, Catalina, in the country upon her father receiving an unusual and seemingly delusional letter from her. In it, she claims her newlywed husband and the mansion they live in are trying to poison her, among other ramblings Noemi and her father can’t make much sense of. While Noemi isn’t keen on leaving her life in Mexico City, she embarks to the countryside for an undetermined length of time to attend to her cousin’s well-being, half-expecting to bring her back to Mexico City to see a psychiatrist.

It doesn’t take long upon arriving, however, for Noemi to experience the unnatural, isolating, and menacing ambiance of this mansion, also known as High Place. Along with Catalina and her husband, Virgil, the manor is home to Virgil’s ancient father, aunt, cousin, and a handful of servants. In addition to the family living with no electricity and in complete silence most of the time, which is very unnerving for the loquacious and lively Noemi, she is also made very uncomfortable when introduced to Virgil’s father, a man completely enamored by the notion of eugenics.

In addition to the dismal demeanor of the house’s occupants, the decrepit house itself is a character of its own. It is truly the epitome of a Gothic setting from beginning to end, complete with the dark and derelict interior, the haunted neighboring cemetery, and the insane, enigmatic descriptions of the house coming to life. Within the grasp of the house, Noemi begins to have horrific dreams of the house as a living organism and of inhumane events occurring within its walls, and she soon realizes her cousin has been subjected to something far worse than she could have ever imagined.

For me, this Gothic tale was Jane Eyre meeting “The Yellow Wallpaper,” which then met Stephen King. I have always been a fan of Gothic literature, and this was a fresh, chilling, and creepy story I didn’t want to put down. While I didn’t initially relate with the protagonist and the story had a bit of a slow start, I found the suspense, plot, and imagery to be completely worth the small wait. I will make a disclaimer that it does have some pretty morbid descriptions and imagery at parts (hence, Stephen King’s shout out), but if you want something to leave you haunted and squeamish, even with the lights on, you will definitely enjoy this novel!

This book is also available in the following formats:

Overdrive eAudiobook

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The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

Reading is such an extraordinary way to escape reality, and distancing ourselves from the anxieties and uncertainties in our lives is so important for our health and well-being. One hidden gem I have recently reread (for the third time!) and would highly recommend is The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. This book journeys back-and-forth in time, place, and perspective, and features the voices of several young women who are bound by a century-old mystery.

Beginning in 1913 in Cornwall, England, this novel revolves around a young girl who is placed on a ship to Australia and arrives with nothing but a suitcase: not even a name. Twenty-one years later, this young girl called Nell discovers a secret that upends her entire world, leading her to question her identity and embark on a journey to discover who she really is.

The story then follows the narrative of Cassandra, Nell’s granddaughter, who inherits an estate in Cornwall upon her grandmother’s death. Not only was Cassandra unaware of the existence of this estate, she also never knew Nell had visited Cornwall, let alone planned to live there. Upon receiving this inheritance, Cassandra picks up the loose threads Nell left behind to unravel the mystery of her grandmother’s life, learning a lot about herself along the way. While Nell and Cassandra are the two focal characters in this story, readers also experience the journey of several other lives that are inextricably intertwined with theirs.

Filled with secrets and revelations that will keep you guessing until the very end, this novel features a mysterious, winding storyline; beautiful, elegant language; and intricate, relatable character development. On top of that, there is a dark book of fairy tales and a secret garden (I can never resist a secret garden!). Overall, I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking to be whisked away to a forgotten garden in Cornwall or immersed in a multi-generational story brimming with family secrets, mystery, and discovery. This book is also available as an eBook:

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones

The Half Sister by Sandie Jones is a whirlwind ride of a suspense novel, full of unexpected twists, turns  all within one family, where each member is hiding their own damaging secrets.  This is another strong offering in the domestic suspense / psychological thriller genre that is currently quite popular.  The Half Sister is Sandie Jones’ third novel, following both The First Mistake  and The Other Woman, which was a Reese Witherspoon Sunshine Book Club Pick in late 2018.

Joining their mother for the routine Sunday dinner after the death of their father, Kate and Lauren begrudgingly go through the emotions  of a seemingly normal family whose cracks have become more and more apparent.  The sister’s relationship was never very solid and the death of their father, and their opposing memories of him creates a deeper divide with each family dinner.

On a typical Sunday, the group receives an expected visitor named Jess who promptly announces that she is the daughter of their father, which makes her Kate and Lauren’s half sister.  Each sister has their own reaction to Jess, which spans the spectrum from complete denial that their father would have had a secret daughter (Kate) to intrigue that the stranger may be telling the truth (Lauren).  Jess does have scientific proof in the form of a DNA test that, on the surface, proves her claims.

As the weeks wear on, Jess has an uncanny ability to cause more and more friction between the sisters and their mother, who also harbors doubts about their father and a possible secret life.  As Kate delves into spotty memories of the past, she realizes that there are a handful of unexplained behaviors from her father that make her doubt her memories of him as the “perfect” father.

Lauren, who believes Jess, is on a quest to discover the truth which leads her to a decades old mystery that has never been solved.  The trail leads right back to the family and a past that has been strictly off limits.  When the truth begins to rise to the surface, the twists and turns come in quick succession.  I really enjoyed The Half Sister, especially the second half of the book when the tension, theories, and accusations come to the shocking conclusion.

 

 

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 First Mistake by Sandie Jones

My genre of choice over the last couple of years has been of the psychological and suspense thriller variety.  Each are memorable in their own way with the expected twists and turns.  The First Mistake by Sandie Jones is a standout in this genre for the usual reasons, but the twists and turns at the end had me exclaiming out loud with shock and disbelief by asking myself how this twist could be possible!

The story begins with successful businesswoman Alice who seems to have it all – a great interior design firm that she founded, a gorgeous home outside London, a dedicated husband and two typical teenage daughters.  But Alice’s life had not always been so perfect.  Her first husband’s tragic accident weighs heavily on every aspect of their lives, from the business that Alice and her first husband started, to their teenage daughter that they shared (who was a toddler when her father was taken away).  In her free time, Alice makes time for her best friend, Beth, whose children attend the same school.

Alice is juggling a potential career changing interior design commission along with her home life, when she starts to notice a change in her husband, Nathan.  Distant and secretive, Alice is convinced that he is having an affair.  With evidence that she cannot ignore, Alice confides her suspicions to Beth that something is not right with Nathan.  Alice soon learns that Beth’s background is just a tumultuous.  As secrets are shared, Alice wonders if Beth is all that she seems and if she is hiding something.

If you are a fan of this genre, add The First Mistake by Sandie Jones to your list.  You may think that you have the plot figured out but I am confident that when the final twist arrives you will be exclaiming out loud as well!

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.

 

 

Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand’s books are the perfect combination of complex drama and noteworthy characters.  Her latest book, Winter in Paradise, is the first book in a planned three-part series.  At the beginning of the novel, we meet Irene Steel on a cold and snowy New Year’s in Iowa City.  Patiently waiting for her husband, Russ, to return from his business trip, she decides to meet a friend for an early dinner.  Irene’s world is turned upside down later that evening when she receives a cryptic phone call telling her that her husband has been killed in the Caribbean island of St. John in a helicopter crash.

Irene is blindsided with the news of her husband’s  unexpected death.  Not only did she think her husband was only a few states away for work, she had no idea why he would be on a small island in the Caribbean.  Irene, along with her two grown sons Baker and Cash, gather from across the country and make their way to the island to make the necessary arrangements.

Upon their arrival, Irene and her sons begin to learn the magnitude of Russ’ deception and delve unwillingly into his secret life.  The pieces of the puzzle all start to come together when the trio befriends various residents of the island and learn more about the husband and father that they thought they knew.  Along with the ripple effect of his death, the three must come to terms with secrets in their past too.  Just when the reader comes to end of the book, another exposed secret throws everything into a state of flux, setting the stage for the next book in the trilogy.  With the cliffhanger at the end of Winter in Paradise, I am anxiously awaiting book two in the series, which will hopefully be released this year!

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

I have been reading a lot of World War II fiction recently, purely by chance. 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson fit so neatly into the timeline of a previous WWII book that I had read that I noticed myself mixing storylines. Once I realized, I paid more attention and started taking notes (Taking notes is more than okay to do! Even when you’re not in school.) This novel was enjoyable and I found myself connecting to most of the characters.

22 Britannia Road tells the story of a family’s rediscovery of each other after World War II. Silvana and Janusz were married right around the beginning of the war. Their marriage began sweet and full of promise with each other’s past left fully in the past. Silvana’s family was less than caring about her, while Janusz is very close to his. Silvana and Janusz settle in Warsaw where they work at keeping their marriage together. Janusz leaves Silvana and their young son to join the military. Years pass, both during the war and after the war, with Silvana and Janusz doing whatever they have to in order to survive.

Once reunited the family moves to England where they struggle to put the past behind them. Both Sylvana and Janusz have secrets though, plus the area where they are living brings its own issues to the surface. Janusz has very much adapted to the English way of life, while Sylvana and their son still mostly speak Polish and have troubles adapting to their new normal life. Settling into their new house, Sylvana and Janusz begin a tentative new life, rediscovering each other and their new home after the ravages of war. Each of them carry secrets that even before they are voiced begin to eat away at Silvana and Janusz inside. What did Janusz do those six years that he was gone? Where did Sylvana and their child end up? How did they survive?

This novel juxtaposes both the present day and the past to show what happened to Silvana, Janusz, and their son during the time when they all were separated from each other. I greatly enjoyed the flashbacks because it helped me to justify and see some of the reasons that each family member behaves the way that they do. This psychological fiction really had me thinking about the secrets we keep from the people we love and the secrets that we’ve become so accustomed to that they eventually feel like our normal life.


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What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell

what i hadOlivia Reed was fifteen when she left her hometown of Ocean Vista on the Jersey Shore. Two decades later, divorced and unstrung, she returns with her teenage daughter, Carrie, and nine-year-old son, Daniel, recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Distracted by thoughts of the past, Olivia fails to notice when Daniel disappears from her side. Her frantic search for him sparks memories of the summer of 1987, when she exploded out of the cocoon of her mother’s fierce, smothering love and into a sudden, full-throttle adolescence, complete with dangerous new friends, first love, and a rebellion so intense that it utterly recharted the course of her life.

Olivia’s mother, Myla, was a practicing psychic whose powers waxed and waned along with her mercurial moods. Myla raised Olivia to be a guarded child, and also to believe in the ever-present infant ghosts of her twin sisters, whom Myla took care of as if they were alive–diapers, baby food, an empty nursery kept like a shrine. At fifteen, Olivia saw her sisters for the first time, not as ghostly infants but as teenagers on the beach. But when Myla denied her vision, Olivia set out to learn the truth–a journey that led to shattering discoveries about herself and her family.

In What I Had Before I Had You, Sarah Cornwell seamlessly weaves together the past and the present in this riveting debut novel, as she examines the relationships between mothers and daughters, and the powerful forces of loss, family history, and magical thinking. (description from publisher)