Tuesday, September 15, 2020

 

Imagine living in a small town where everyone knows everyone else.  Then imagine that on one fateful day, the entire population of the town mysteriously disappears.  That’s what happens to the inhabitants of the small Swedish mining town of Silvertjärn in 1959 in the book The Lost Village.  Two policemen checking on the welfare of the village come across a terrible scene:  a dead body tied to a pole in the middle of the town square.  The inhabitants of the village are all missing, except for one baby left in the village school.  In the present day, five young people set out to visit the still remote area where Silvertjärn remains in ruins in order to work on a documentary about what happened in the town and to solve the mystery.  Alice, the driving force behind the project, is the granddaughter of a woman who left the village just before everyone disappeared.  Alice has grown up listening to her grandmother’s stories about the village and her missing relatives, and she decides to tell the story to the world.  The documentary film project is still short of funding, so on this trip, the 5 crew members are planning to make a short film to drum up interest (and hopefully investors) for the full-length project.  The modern-day events are interspersed with chapters narrated by Elsa, Alice’s great-aunt.  From her perspective, the village of Silvertjärn is shown back when it was inhabited.  By the 1950s, when Elsa’s story is taking place, the town is already starting to go downhill.  The townspeople have just learned that the mine where nearly everyone is employed is going to be shutting down.  It is at this time of despair that a new person comes to town and the villagers begin to see some hope where there had been none before. Back in the present day, a variety of bad events begin to befall the film crew.  As they begin to suffer more serious accidents, they begin to wonder if the village is deserted after all, or if whatever evil happened in the village all those years ago is still present.  The story has an interesting premise and I was interested to see how the mystery would eventually be solved.  The only quibble I had was that the main character, Alice, was a bit too whiny and self-absorbed for most of the story.  Still, it was a very suspenseful and ultimately satisfying story.  It would make a fantastic film!

I received a copy of The Lost Village from NetGalley in exchange for this review

 

Confessions on the 7:45
Poor Selena.  Not only does she have to carry the financial burden of supporting her family, but she’s just seen her husband getting way too familiar with Geneva, the nanny, on the appropriately-named nanny cam.  Things hadn’t been good with her husband Graham for a while, but this is the event that threatens to push her over the edge and declare her marriage over for good.  Still . . . it will totally disrupt the lives of her two young sons not to mention herself and force her to admit to her family that her marriage is over.  While stewing on the train home, another woman notices her discomfort and begins confiding her own problems: that she’s sleeping with her boss and might lose her job if his wife (who owns the company) finds out.  While Selena appreciates having someone to vent to, she begins to wonder about her indiscretions when “Martha, from the train” begins texting her asking to meet up again.  When Geneva the nanny disappears, it doesn’t look good for Graham and Selena begins to wonder just what her husband has been getting up to.  The story also includes chapters devoted to Pearl, a teen girl whose mother was murdered.  Her mother’s former boyfriend Charlie rescues Pearl from the situation and they flee the area.  He begins to teach her the ways of conning people and they spend the next decade or so traveling around the country looking for the next score.  Pearl changes her identity frequently, so we have no idea who she is in the present story.  The suspense is kept up as Selena tries to unravel what happened to Geneva, as well as what Martha wants from her.  I thought the final “epilogue” was a bit long-winded, but the story kept my interest and was enjoyable.

I received a copy of Confessions on the 7:45 from NetGalley in exchange for this review.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Moonflower Murders cover
Susan Ryeland is at a bit of a crossroads.  After leaving her career in publishing to run a hotel in Crete with her boyfriend, she has reached the realization that running the hotel might be more trouble than it’s worth.  Her relationship is also somewhat in a holding pattern.  So it is fortunate for her that a couple, the Trehernes, offer her £10,000 to return to England to investigate the disappearance of their daughter Cecily.  Susan isn’t a private investigator, but she has some connection to the Trehernes.  One of her former clients, the now-deceased writer Alan Conway, had written a book about a murder that took place 8 years previously at a country hotel owned by the Trehernes.  The murder happened on the wedding day of their daughter Cecily, and one of the hotel workers had been convicted of the murder.  Now, all these years later, Cecily called her parents with the news that the wrong man had been convicted of the murder, and that the clue to the real murderer was in the fictional book written about the case.  Soon afterwards, she disappeared.  The Trehernes have nowhere else to turn, and beg Susan to follow Alan Conway’s clues in the book to uncover the mystery of what happened to their daughter.  Eager for an escape and needing the money for her floundering hotel, Susan is only too happy to temporarily return to England where distance will also hopefully help to clarify her own personal issues as well.

Once at the hotel, Susan is met by mostly hostile and suspicious people – all of whom are potential suspects in both the original murder of the guest, and the more recent disappearance of Cecily.  After questioning various people in an attempt to get some background on Cecily, Susan decides to re-read Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, the book which Cecily was convinced revealed the real murderer.  So in the middle of the story, we are suddenly switched to the fictional book based on the murder.  In the fictionalized account, a famous Hollywood actress has returned to her homeland of England and purchased a country hotel, where she is found murdered.  There is no shortage of suspects, and when the police are stumped, the detective Atticus Pünd is brought in to see if he can get to the bottom of the case.  Of course he eventually solves this case (and we are also given a rather lengthy description of the most famous case that he solved), but even after finishing the story, Susan is no further along in figuring out what the book has to do with her own current mystery.

Eventually, both Atticus and Susan call together all their suspects and point out the reasons each would have for committing the crimes, as well as why they were all innocent – except for when the true culprits are exposed.  Once Susan’s crime is solved, she does go back over the original book and pointed out the many clues that had been included in the text – none of which I picked up on!

I enjoyed reading this story a great deal, both because of the Agatha Christie overtones, and the fact that you get a second mystery right in the middle of the main book!  While I did feel that Atticus Pünd’s story was much more interesting (there were many more twist and turns than there were in Susan’s story), I did love seeing all the clues pointed out at the end.

Disclaimer:  I received a digital advanced reader's copy of Moonflower Murders from NetGalley in exchange for this review


Friday, June 26, 2020

Poppy is the nanny everyone wants: young, fun and eager to please.  She enjoys most perks of the job, and when the story opens she is on vacation with the family she works for in Ibiza.  Even pliable Poppy has a breaking point, however, and when her boss is six hours late in returning home, Poppy has the audacity to express that this is unfair to both her and the children she's taking care of.  When she's unceremoniously fired and thrown out in the middle of the night, she goes to a local bar to drown her sorrows.  It's there she meets the mysterious Drew in The Truth Hurts.  It was at this point that I wondered if I was going to be reading about a romance or a serial killer.  Time would tell . . .

Drew is around 15 years older than Poppy, and he establishes an immediate connection with her.   Their whirlwind romance ends up with them getting married after only knowing each other for four weeks.  Part of their courtship involves an agreement that they will not ask each other about the past  -- they will both only live in the present.  As Poppy has some skeletons in her closet, she readily agrees.  Before they return to England, Drew buys an enormous house for them to live in.  Poppy is thrilled by this turn of events, but once they arrive at the house, she begins to have misgivings.  The house, while large and expensive, has an oppressive feel to it.  The locals are also not very friendly.  Once Poppy tells people where they live, the reactions she gets range from frosty to downright hostile.  While Drew goes off to work every day, Poppy is left all alone in the big, isolated house.  She soon has her equally flighty best friend, Gina, come to stay.  Gina and Drew seem to take a dislike to each other on sight, but they have a cordial enough relationship.  When Drew invites several old friends and their wives over for a weekend house party, Poppy once again feels some unease.  Are there secrets being kept from her, or is she just being young and overly sensitive?

The "now" events in the story alternate with "before" chapters.  In the earlier chapters, Poppy is living in as a nanny with a family she adores.  She thinks of the mother in the family, Caroline, as more of a friend than an employer, and Caroline's three children adore her.  So why is she working for a different family in Ibiza???

The action in the story never flagged, although I did wonder how Poppy could be so unconcerned with the reactions of the people in town or with finding out about Drew's background.  They had agreed to never talk to each other about their pasts, but it would seem Poppy would at least do some research online.  Then again, she didn't really have a family to turn to for help and she wasn't at all looking forward to trying to find another nannying position, so I guess she was afraid to rock the boat.  The book did have an unexpected twist at the end, so I was very happy that the story didn't have a predictable, tidy ending.

I received an advanced copy of The Truth Hurts from NetGalley in exchange for this review


Saturday, May 30, 2020

With the success of the first season of Serial, interest in true crime podcasts exploded. I myself am a huge fan of the genre, and never miss an episode of True Crime All the Time, My Favorite Murder, Casefile or Murder Mile (among many others).  I was interested to read The Night Swim, because the main character, Rachel Krall is a true crime podcaster.  Her podcast, Guilty or Not Guilty, has gained a cult following and made her a star, although she guards her identity and no one really knows what she looks like.  That's why, when she goes to the town of Neapolis, North Carolina, to cover a court case for her the new season of her show, she is unnerved when notes begin appearing on her car begging her to investigate a suspicious death from long ago.

The current case that Rachel is covering involves a rape trial.  In a case based loosely on a recent well-known event, a star athlete from a well-connected local family has been charged with assaulting a local high school girl.  He denies the charges, and the town is split among those who support the young man, and those who believe the young woman.  Rachel is attending the trial and then summarizing it daily on her podcast.  Her usual sidekick Pete (the Steven! of the set-up, if you will) has been hospitalized after an accident, so she is working alone.

After the success of her podcast, many people have reached out to Rachel to ask for help in investigating murders and disappearances of their loved ones.  The requests have become so overwhelming that form letters are sent out to those who write in, offering sympathy but little else.  So when notes begin appearing for Rachel, on her car and at her hotel, she is unnerved . . . but also intrigued.  The writer asks Rachel to investigate the death of her sister some 25 years ago in the same town where Rachel finds herself for the trial.  The story moves between the current rape trial and the story of the dead girl from the past.  Hannah, the younger sister of the dead girl, tells her own story in alternating chapters:  how her sister Jenny died, how Jenny’s death devastated her family, and how she’s never stopped trying to get justice for her dead sister.

The events, mirrored on similar incidents that have been in the news recently, helped to give the book a real sense of timeliness.  It is uncomfortable reading about the abuse of some of the young women in the story, but the attitudes and divisions in the small town mirror what goes on all too often in situations where the misdeeds of some are covered up or excused by those with the power to do so. 

I received an Advance Readers’ Edition of The Night Swim from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Thursday, May 28, 2020


Poor Becky Farwell.  Growing up in a small farming town with a widowed father with a failing farm equipment business, there was never any question that she could attend college, despite her amazing talent for numbers.  She quickly gets a job in the accounting department for the city of Pierson, IL, and notices that "the way things have always been done" is sloppy and inefficient.  Worse, when she tries to bring mistakes to the attention of her superiors, she's treated with contempt and told not to make waves.  It's no wonder that The Talented Miss Farwell soon begins to take advantage of the lack of oversight and the slap-dash ways of the office to create a little secret slush fund of money that no one misses.
With an elderly, ailing father, a family business to keep afloat, no time for dating, and a job where she's unappreciated, is it any wonder she needs a hobby?  This soon manifests itself in a newly discovered love of art.  Soon Becky is attending art auctions and using her secret account to buy paintings, which she then re-sells at a profit.  For a while, she repays the money she "borrows" but soon her addiction leads her to purchase more expensive pieces.

Once she grows tired of the nearby art scene in Chicago, she decides to head to where the real action is: New York City.  Among her artsy friends, she's Reba:  sophisticated, always expensively dressed, and knowledgeable about all aspects of the art business.  To the people of Pierson, she's Becky: dependable, boring, and highly efficient at her job.  She's known for being able to "magically find money" when the town needs something repaired.  At the same time, due to the poor economy, the town is in a financial hole (not helped by Becky's skimming).  How long until her Activity (as she calls her new venture) is discovered?

I enjoyed reading about how Becky got more and more reckless with her embezzling and the lengths she had to go to in order to cover up her deception.  The element of danger was alluring, as was the opportunity to escape her drab daily life to be a high-flyer in the art world.  Her uncanny eye for spotting valuable bargains should have enabled her to keep both her Activity and the town of Pierson afloat, but her need to continually chase the next great artwork meant she could never be satisfied.  

I received an Advance Reader's Edition of The Talented Miss Farwell from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Sunday, May 17, 2020


Don’t you just hate destination weddings?  I mean, not only do you have to spend a lot of money to (basically) go on someone else’s vacation, but you have to bring along expensive clothes, deal with drunken guests, potentially get murdered . . . well, those are some of the things the wedding party has to deal with in TheGuest List.

Will and Julia are the “it” couple of the day.  Both successful in their careers (he as a reality TV star, she as the owner of a successful blog/online lifestyle magazine), they invite guests to an isolated Irish island for their lavish wedding.  The chapters are narrated by various people on the island:  Aoife (the wedding planner who owns the venue), Hannah (whose husband is the bride’s best friend), Johnno (the best man), Olivia (the bride’s younger, damaged sister), Jules (the bride herself), etc.  Each person seems to have a deep, dark secret that they are trying to overcome.

The story moves back and forth in time, so that we soon find out that someone has been found murdered just after the wedding ceremony.  It takes a while for it to come out as to who the victim is and why the murder happened.  Then, with all the secrets, it seems there is no shortage of motives, so we are left to find out which secret was worth killing for.

The premise of the story is interesting:  people are ferried to the island and then are basically cut off from the rest of the world with a killer in their midst.  It was hard to feel much sympathy for anyone as they were all pretty unlikeable (the bride and groom were very pleased with themselves and everyone else was basically had chips on their shoulders).  Still, the action moved along at a fast pace and you were left wondering who the victim and murderer were.  It felt like it took an overly long time to get to that point, however and while there was a need to have plenty of suspects, it was hard to root for anyone.

I received a free copy of the Guest List from Netgalley in exchange for this review

Millicent “Missy” Carmichael can be difficult to like.  A 79 year old lady who lives alone in a big empty London house, she lives for the yearly visit of her son and grandson from Australia.  Her daughter lives closer, but they’ve had a falling out recently and don’t speak much (they were never really close anyway).  The Love Story of Missy Carmichael shows what happens when you open yourself up to new experiences.

Missy, daughter of an early, ardent feminist, went off to college and shone brightly as a classics scholar.  One night at a party she meets handsome Leo Carmichael, and is instantly smitten.  They have a brief affair, but then he goes off and she’s left with her books and her longing for him.  When he eventually returns a few years later, they marry and (as women did at the time) she instantly devotes herself to having children and keeping things running while he becomes a famous historian and author.
 

Current events in the novel are interspersed with earlier events from Missy’s life.  Her beloved grandparents, fiercely determined mother, and adored yet absent husband all help to explain how Missy came to be alone, bitter, and yet still yearning after connections.  A decision to go out to a local event leads to unimagined benefits in Missy’s solitary life.  After a spell of light-headedness, Missy meets single mother Angela and her young son Otis (who reminds Missy painfully of her absent grandson), interior designer Sylvie, and, eventually, the new love of her life: a patient yet excitable dog named Bobby.

Walking Bobby (who Missy agrees to look after “temporarily” for a friend of Angela’s) exposes Missy to a whole new group of acquaintances:  the park dog-walkers.  Since she now has an area of common ground, Missy finds herself suddenly shedding her prickly persona in favor of exchanging dog stories with others who are eager to talk about their furry companions.  Angela is also delighted to find a compliant and available baby-sitter, and young Otis enjoys the attention of a surrogate grandmother.

Soon Missy’s life is opening up in ways she could never have imagined.  Having spent her entire life looking after others (with little appreciation or thanks) it’s nice to see her finally enjoying herself and living a little.  There are a few surprises at the end as more and more of Missy’s secrets are exposed.  Overall, the adventures of Missy and Bobby make for an enjoyable and inspiring story of how it’s never too late to find new loves.

Disclaimer:  I received an advanced reader’s copy of The Love Story of Missy Carmichael in exchange for this review

When driven career-girl Leena has an public humiliation at work, she’s directed by her boss to take two months off work to sort herself out.  She has a flat in London complete with quirky roommates and a boyfriend, but suddenly all she wants to do is travel back to the small Yorkshire village where she has her roots.  Her grandmother, Eileen, is still smarting from her husband leaving her for another woman.  As each woman finds herself at a crossroads, they decide to swap lives in The Switch.

Leena soon has to come to grips with the many activities her grandmother has left for her.  She has to chair the Neighborhood Watch meetings, drive the van to bingo for elderly local residents, plan the May Day Festival, and walk the dog of one of the village residents.  It’s a full calendar of events, but organized, take-charge Leena sees no problem in getting it all done.

Eileen, who married young and left behind her dreams of big-city life, also soon finds many projects to keep her busy in London.  Number one on her agenda:  put a dating profile out there and learn to use it.  She gets help with this from Bee, Leena’s best friend.  Soon she is arranging dates as well as attempting to get to know all the neighbors in the apartment building.  In the big city, where people generally don’t know their neighbors, this takes a bit of determination and dedication.

Complicating matters even further, Leena has still not really had time to process the recent death of her sister Carla.  She had a huge disagreement with her mother over Carla’s treatment, and their relationship has been on shaky ground ever since.  Since her mother lives in the village, though, unexpected encounters are sure to occur.

Both Eileen and Leena adapt quickly to their changed surroundings.  Away from their usual routines, they can take stock and see what they need to change in order to be happy.  Not only their lives, but those of the people they interact with, are shaken up and impacted in ways that they didn’t expect.  Reading about Eileen’s adventures makes you realize that all that reaching out to those around you can yield unexpected results.  Many of the events that eventually play out are not unexpected, but the journey that both women take is enjoyable and heartwarming.


I received a copy of The Switch from Netgalley in exchange for this review.

People in the small town of Deerfield, Louisiana are startled one day by a small booth that suddenly appears in the local grocery store in the Big Door Prize.  Upon entering the booth, people were directed to swab their cheek, insert the swab into a slot, and out came a blue paper showing what career they were best suited for, based on their DNA.  Nearly everyone in the town is suddenly gripped by the frenzy of the life that “should have been.”  People who had been going about their daily lives believe totally in the mysterious results and begin planning for new careers as cowboys and musicians.  At the same time, the residents of Deerfield are planning for a big bicentennial celebration but the distraction of potential more exciting lives elsewhere is making it difficult to prepare.

The book mostly centers on two different families:  the Hubbards and the Richieus. Douglas Hubbard is a teacher at the local high school.  His wife Cherilyn spends her days working on crafts and on committees in town.  They didn’t have children and now seem to have reached a crossroads in their relationship (matters not helped by the DNA booth).  Jacob Richieus’s father is the mayor of Deerfield, but the high school junior is socially awkward and has spent his entire life being overshadowed by his more outgoing twin Toby.  After Toby’s recent death in a car accident, his girlfriend Trina begins showing an interest in Jacob.  Is it because she likes him, or that she wants him to be a substitute for Toby?  She soon begins to hint that there is something not quite right with Toby’s accident.

The characters in the book all seem to be going around in a daze.  Once the possibility of a different, more exciting life is dangled in front of people, they begin to live with hope and exhilaration.  Most people experience an “I knew it!” moment when they seen their results, but not everyone is pleased with the results. 

I enjoyed reading the book because I had no idea where it was headed!  The mystery of the DNA booth was intriguing and there is a vague sense of dread over what the teenagers are getting involved in.  It was interesting to read about how quickly people are ready to believe something about themselves without questioning where the information is coming from.  While the DNA booth gave hope to many, it also caused nearly everyone to question the life choices they had made so far. 

I received a copy of the Big Door Prize from the publisher in exchange for this review.

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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