An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

What would you do if you were stuck in a remote lodge in the middle of winter for a long weekend? This lodge has hiking trails, a library, fireplaces, and other outside activities. Sounds pretty idyllic, right? I thought so! Author Shari Lapena takes every bookworm’s dream weekend getaway and turns it into a nightmare in her newest novel, An Unwanted Guest. Fans of murder mysteries will want to read this book as Lapena crafts a book with descriptions similar to an Agatha Christie novel.

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena tells the story of a group of people headed to a cozy mountain lodge named Mitchell’s Inn in the Catskills for a perfect weekend retreat. Things start to turn dicey on the drive to the lodge as a winter storm starts to barrel down on the area. Once everyone is settled at the lodge, they all settle in for various romantic, relaxing weekend activities. As events unfold, it becomes obvious that each person is not what they seem. When planned activities come to a screeching halt as the weather increasingly becomes worse and worse, the guests are forced to rely on each other for companionship.

As more and more guests arrive at the inn, they greet each other with interest, wondering about their reasonings for being there, but not wanting to get involved. The weather keeps guests and limited hotel staff stuck inside the Mitchell Inn without any hope of rescue from the outside. Waking up to a horrifying scream the next day, guests discover a dead body laying at the foot of the stairs. As the weekend progresses, the situation further deteriorates out of control with a frightening new truth coming to light. There’s a killer in their midst. None of them can escape. There is nowhere to run. They’re trapped, desperate for help, and finding that their trust in others is quickly slipping away. Searching for the truth, tensions run high as they all try to find out who is the killer and, most importantly, stay alive!


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The Witch Elm by Tana French

I have always wanted to read a book by Tana French. For ten years, French exclusively wrote the Dublin Murder Squad series. I don’t like reading series out of order, so I filed French down to the bottom of my to-read list until I could find all the books in the series. When I realized that her newest book was a stand-alone, I was excited! I could finally fulfill my desire to read Tana French. (And yes, I know I could have found her series and read them, but it’s much easier to find (and read) a standalone.)

The Witch Elm by Tana French is her latest novel released in the beginning of October 2018. This standalone mystery is separate from French’s Dublin Murder Squad series(I can’t stress that enough!). Based on the reviews that I read, The Witch Elm is a prime example of why you should check out what a book is actually about about before you pick it up. Most reviewers were excited that Tana French had put out a new book and decided to immediately read it. As I progressed through different reviews and websites, I saw that most had assumed this was a continuation of her Dublin Murder Squad series or had assumed that her newest would be a detective-centric story. It’s not! Having not read her others, I’m not sure how this one stacked up to her previous works, but I enjoyed the twists and turns of this novel a great deal.

In The Witch Elm , readers are introduced to happy-go-lucky Toby. Everything always seems to work out for Toby.  From his job to his girlfriend and his apartment, Toby seems to have it all. At the very beginning, Toby steps outside of the storyline of the book to inform readers that things have taken a turn for him. Through this novel, Toby says he will lay out the ways that his life has taken a turn. One night Toby is out having drinks with his friends, telling the story of how he has managed to come out of a touchy work situation in a positive manner. Hoping things will turn around, Toby drunkenly heads back to his apartment where he is surprised in the middle of the night by two burglars who beat him and leave him for dead. Not able to recover or live on his own, Toby finds himself living back at the Ivy House, his family’s ancestral home, taking care of his sick uncle.

Left damaged and traumatized after his attack, Toby struggles to take care of himself and his sick Uncle Hugo. Luckily for both men, Toby’s girlfriend moves into Ivy House to help care for them. This brutal attack has forever altered Toby and he isn’t sure how to adjust to his new normal. Uncle Hugo’s illness has left the family in doubt as to what will happen to Ivy House after he dies, which may happen sooner than they all think. All together for lunch one day, Hugo begins to broach this topic. Before they get very far, a scream is heard from the garden. The children have found a skull, tucked into the old witch elm at the foot of the garden.

With this discovery, Toby’s life will spiral even more out of control. Detectives, crime scene investigators, and the media descend in droves on Ivy House. Everyone in the family is on edge with Toby confused in the center. The aftereffects of Toby’s attack has addled his brain, making it hard for him to keep events straight. Constantly confusing the past and present and forgetting what is false and true rocket Toby to the top of the detectives’ suspect list. Through the course of their investigation, Toby is forced to look back on the idyllic childhood he lived and his perfect recent past. What he believed to be the truth may not actually be what happened. This novel takes a deep look at how what we believe to be true may not actually be how others remember what happened. While I enjoyed the suspenseful storytelling weaved throughout this novel, Toby was a character I had to work to love. Tana French crafted Toby’s character this way in order to force readers to really look at what we would do when forced to change ourselves into someone new. I encourage you to read this book and let me know what you thought in the comments below!


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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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Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter

Karin Slaughter is one of my go-to authors. I have yet to run across a book of hers that I haven’t liked. Slaughter writes suspenseful mystery thrillers that leave you wondering about past lives, secrets kept, and relationships both broken and sustained throughout the years. I like my fiction a little bit dark and twisty. If I don’t figure out the whodunnit and why until almost the end, even better. For me, Slaughter writes successful fiction because I’m consistently surprised with the twist her fiction takes.

Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter is her newest book. I. Was. Blown. Away. This novel takes a close look at the relationships with parents and their children. While we may think we know our ancestry, this novel proves that these thoughts may be completely and totally wrong. There are so many different pieces to each person. (Play on the title, get it??) We also have different identities. One woman can be a mother, daughter, granddaughter, wife, etc, with each separate part of herself hiding something from the other.

In Pieces of Her, Andrea discovers that she never really knew her mother, Laura at all. Even though she has a very close relationship with her mother, even living in her garage apartment, one day throws everything apart. Andrea knows that her mother has spent her entire life cloistered in their tiny beach town of BelleIsle. Her mother has no secrets, but is seen as a steadfast and trustworthy member of the community. With Laura’s life changed by a cancer diagnosis, Andrea moves back home and becomes enmeshed in her life. This cancer scare is a deviation from the norm, but Andrea knows her mother’s reactions are only a result of her cancer treatment.

Heading to the mall one afternoon with her mother, Andrea soon sees a completely different side of Laura. The violent scene that erupts in front of Andrea shows her that her mother was a totally different person before her, more so than her simply not having a child. The intense media scrutiny and the police’s desire to find answers brings unwanted attention to Laura and she quickly shuts down. Laura changes in front of Andrea’s eyes, telling Andrea to run away from the whole situation with only slight clues of where to go. Laura refuses to speak to anyone, instead lying low and trying to protect her daughter by pushing her away. Andrea leaves town, following the tiny bit of clues her mother has left for her. Digging into her mother’s secrets, Andrea quickly discovers that if she can’t figure out the real truth of her mother’s past, there might not be a future for either of them.

Reviewer’s note: Karin Slaughter is not shy when it comes to using graphic scenes, violence, and blood in her books. This book is no exception. If you’re squeamish, I would steer clear. In my opinion, this novel only benefits from her descriptions.


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Our House by Louise Candlish

Have you ever read a book you loved and found yourself wishing that the ending was different? That’s how I felt during Louise Candlish’s Our House. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this book, but the ending felt to me like there could have been more. Maybe there will be a sequel! One can only hope.

Our House by Louise Candlish tells the story of Fiona and Bram Lawson. This married couple have lived together with their two young boys at 91 Trinity Avenue for years. Fiona has poured her heart and soul into this house, working hard to make it a home that fits their unique family style. This safe haven is tested when Fiona discovers Bram cheating on her. Banishing him from the house, Fiona works hard to figure out how to keep her children’s lives as normal as possible. Deciding to draw up a modern coparenting arrangement with Bram called bird’s nest custody, Fiona thinks she has discovered the perfect solution. Instead of shuffling the kids between two different houses, Fiona and Bram will each spend a few nights a week in the house in order to have as little of an impact on the children as possible.

This perfect system ends up backfiring colossally when Fiona comes home early from a romantic weekend away with a new beau to discover a new family moving into 91 Trinity Avenue. This surprises Fiona because that is her house and she certainly didn’t sell it. The new couple has all the necessary paperwork with payment confirmed out to her estranged husband, Bram. What follows is massive confusion as Fiona is confident that there has been a mistake.  Alas upon talking to multiple agents, the disastrous truth is realized: Bram has sold the house out from underneath the family and has absconded with the proceeds from the house sale. Fiona is utterly devastated.

Working hard to figure out the truth, Fiona digs into Bram’s past and discovers that the bird’s nest custody agreement that she was so proud of allowed Bram access to all the necessary documents he needed in order to sell the house out from underneath her and the boys. Even with access to those documents, Fiona also realizes he would have needed the help of others in order to carry out a crime of this magnitude. Fiona is stumped about how he would come into contact with those type of people. Events continue to spiral out of control as Fiona uncovers all the lies Bram was weaving through their lives and how little she actually knew about her husband. Why would he do this to them? Where has he gone?

This story is told through a word document written by Bram while he’s on the run and through transcripts of a podcast on which Fiona tells the whole sordid story of Bram’s betrayal. I really liked the method that Candlish chose to present this book as it allowed readers to pretty much simultaneously see both Bram and Fiona’s points of view and their reasons for behaving the way they do. I was fascinated with the severity of Bram’s crime and how seemingly easy it was for him to sell the house without his wife’s knowledge.


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Tailspin by Sandra Brown

There are some authors that I know I can pick up a book by and not be disappointed with what they wrote. Sandra Brown is one of them. Her books spin thrilling stories of romance and suspense that keep me wanting more from beginning to end. Brown’s novel Tailspin was my latest read/listen and I finished it in two days!

Tailspin is the riveting story of Rye Mallett and Dr. Brynn O’Neal. Mallett is known as a ‘freight dog’, a pilot who can be called to fly anywhere in the  world at anytime of day in any weather. Mallett is put to the test when he is called last minute to make a flight during stormy weather in order to deliver a black padlocked box to a demanding client. With his background as a fighter pilot in Afghanistan, not much scares Mallett and he isn’t going to let the weather hold him back, even though all the airports are grounded and no other pilot would even think of flying in that weather.

Despite a rough flight, Mallett makes it to the small somewhat dangerous runway where he is to meet the doctor charged with picking up his precious mysterious cargo. Coming in for a landing, something happens to Mallett that results in a near crash. After getting off the plane, Mallett has a run-in with Dr. Brynn O’Neal, who is not the doctor that he was expecting.

Brynn is a very dedicated doctor who is loyal to her patients, sometimes to a fault. She’s concerned with getting the contents of that black padlocked box to her patient within a strict forty-eight hour deadline. If that forty-eight hour deadline passes, the potential to save her patient’s life will expire.

Mallett doesn’t trust Brynn. Even though her intentions are noble, Mallett feels like there is something that Brynn is holding back. This doesn’t bother Brynn because she doesn’t trust Mallett either. Mallett is unpredictable and is an erratic variable that threatens to destroy Brynn’s forty-eight hour deadline. Despite their uneasiness towards each other, circumstances have necessitated that the two reluctantly team up. They are soon racing against the clock, different levels of law enforcement, and people who are willing to kill for the contents of that black box for a high-level client.


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The First Family by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer

Medical thrillers can sometimes be overwhelming if the author focuses the majority of the text on intense descriptions of medical issues. One author that I feel has managed to successfully balance medical, suspense, and mystery is Daniel Palmer, writing a Michael Palmer medical thriller.

The First Family by Michael Palmer and Daniel Palmer is the latest book of theirs that I listened to. This book centers around the President and his family. President Geoffrey Hilliard and his family deal with everyday issues while under intense public scrutiny. The President and First Lady are growing increasingly worried about their only son, Cam, who keeps withdrawing into himself. 16-year-old Cam is experiencing moodiness, extreme fatigue, and recently had a violent outburst that Secret Service Agent Karen Ray was present for. The main White House doctor is quick to dismiss Cam’s symptoms by saying that Cam is a teenager growing up in the spotlight and thus has developed depression. Karen, after observing Cam, becomes convinced that his issues are more serious than depression. Because the original doctor dismissed Karen’s concerns, Karen reaches out to her ex-husband Dr. Lee Blackwood for a second opinion.

The President is not thrilled with Lee’s intervention and dismisses his concerns over Cam’s condition. Lee monitors Cam through Karen and grows increasingly more worried and concerned. The President and First Lady soon reach out to Lee again when it’s discovered that Cam is getting progressively worse. Cam’s symptoms puzzle Lee because their combination doesn’t make sense.

Lee is busy doing research and comes across the case of Susie Banks, a young musical prodigy who has the same symptoms and condition as Cam. Running across Susie’s case, Lee discovers that someone has tried to kill her and no one knows why. Looking at medical records, Lee hopes to find more connections between Susie and Cam to figure out what is happening with them. Similarities start to pop up and Lee starts poking around. The cause of their condition is unknown, but Lee and Karen both know that they are on a deadline to find a cure for Cam’s mysterious disease before it turns deadly.

This book had a little bit of everything that I love in fiction: romance, politics, family drama, medical issues, suspense, and military drama. I felt, as I was listening to this book, that there was something in this book for everyone. I’m excited to read another one of their books to see if they could become one of my favorites.


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Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin

Finding old black and white photographs hidden in drawers or on the shelves of antique stores is one of my favorite things. Those photographs seldom have identifying information on the back. As a result, my mind will wander and make up stories about whoever happens to be in the shot. When I stumbled upon my last read, I knew it was meant to be, based purely on the cover. When I read the description, I was even more hooked.

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin is a mysterious murder plot of a book. Carl Louis Feldman is a documentary photographer living in a home for suspected serial killers who have mental issues. It’s thought that Carl has dementia. Certainly all the symptoms point to it, but the fact that Carl is not in prison at the moment for his crimes leads a mysterious young woman searching for answers to his doorstep.

This young woman has been obsessively searching for answers to her sister’s disappearance since she was twelve years old. She has been waiting to meet Carl and has planned, researched, and trained in every way possible. Showing up where Carl lives and breaking him out of the home is the easiest part. Now she and Carl are traveling across Texas to three red dots marked on her map as she works to see whether or not Carl is guilty of murdering all these women and of kidnapping and murdering her own sister.

Carl might be a serial killer. He might have dementia. He might not remember committing a string of violent crimes across Texas that match up with a series of famous photographs he took. This woman doesn’t believe anything Carl says and hopes that this road trip will help her figure out the truth about Carl and what happened to her sister.

This novel could have gone many different ways. I found myself constantly wondering what was going to happen to Carl and this mysterious young woman. Was he faking? Was she going to kill him? Would either of them ever find answers? I was hooked cover to cover. Give it a read and let me know what you think.

Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser

  Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser is a mysterious read about a group of neighborhood women who are all connected to each other. Yellow Springs is a small Ohio town that is rocked by the sudden and shocking disappearance of young mother Kristin and her twins.

The women of Yellow Springs are excited to realize that their baby monitors all reach one of the women’s backyard. They gather around a firepit one Saturday night to relax and take a night off from husbands, kids, and life in general. They drink too much and share more than usual. After all, everyone has secrets.

On Monday morning, whispers begin to circulate around town that one of the women is missing. Kristin, the adorable twin mom, who seems to have everything together and under control with her handsome doctor husband, has disappeared into the night without a trace with her two children. As police begin investigating, they dig up secrets surrounding each woman. Instead of finding answers about what happened to Kristin, whether she’s dead or alive, police discover that Kristin doesn’t seem too worried about her impending divorce, even with her husband moved out. Kristin’s husband, Paul, finds himself at the center of the investigation as he moves back into the family home and starts packing up their belongings to move on with his life.

Kristin’s closest neighbor, Clara, is having difficulties with Kristin and her children’s disappearance. Clara’s past is troubled. With the police searching the neighborhood and interviewing the neighbors, this incident is triggering memories of her past that Clara would really like to forget. Soon Clara unwittingly finds herself dragged right into the center of the investigation. When she’s thrust into the spotlight, Clara’s suspicions begin to rise.

Each neighbor is forced to closely examine their own lives behind closed doors as secrets begin to leak out and suspicions about what really happened thrown around. Kristin and the twins’ disappearance becomes a cold case, leaving the neighborhood feeling confused, betrayed, and worried that something sinister could be lurking around their idyllic town of Yellow Springs.

This book was an interesting read as it sheds light on what really is happening behind the scenes and how real life usually always varies from what is presented in the media. While I had issues with some characters, I liked how the author went beyond the surface details and let us see the divide between what we present to the public and what is actually happening behind closed doors.


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One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

How do you like your fiction? Do you prefer to follow the life of one character from beginning to end or do you hope for multiple viewpoints to hopefully better understand the story? Do you want your characters to be upfront about their motivations or instead hope there’s a twist somewhere that will catch you off-guard? Everyone has their own reading preference, but without trying something you normally wouldn’t read, how will you know if you actually don’t like it? I’ve been experimenting lately and while I have some duds that never captured my interest, I did stumble upon a few I really enjoyed. One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline was one that gripped me from the beginning!

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline is a suspenseful thriller that takes a look into how the lives presented to others can be very different than the lives we live behind closed doors. This suburban crime tale begins with a surface look at a mix of characters: a single mom and her athletically gifted high school pitcher son who is shy and socially awkward, but hopes to be recruited by a college for a full-ride scholarship or he has no hope of leaving his small town. The son’s friends range from a fellow teammate from an affluent family who has never wanted for anything, has excellent grades, and is always up for a good time to another teammate whose family is struggling with the recent death of their patriarch, a man who kept the family together no matter what. This community faces all normal high school, family, and teenage struggles, but with the addition of one recent exception: a new stranger in town.

This new stranger seemingly has a hand in everyone’s business in town. He has managed to gain access to the high school as a teacher and coach. With that access, comes ability to better know the parents, staff, and other community members since this is such a small town. This likable stranger has a hidden agenda though, one that no one in the community is privy to and that they could never possibly guess. He has the ability to destroy the town and walk away with no consequences. His hidden plan falls through when a horrific tragedy befalls the school and he is forced to act quickly. Once his plan is put into motion, this mix of characters is forced to reevaluate their actions and their lives. A battle begins for their lives, futures, and well-beings. The fate of the entire community rests on all of their shoulders.


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