“Our Little World “by Karen Winn

Genre: Adult Coming of AgeOur Little orld
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pub. Date: May 3, 2022

A sorrowful coming-of-age narrative about a twelve-year-old girl whose eleven-year-old sister dies. There was an age-appropriate competition between them.  The author has us reading in between the lines to understand that if the younger sister hadn’t died, they would have grown to be close adult siblings. The setting is a typical New Jersey suburban community in the 1980s, where nothing evil is supposed to happen. Winn captures the era perfectly, as well as the cul-de-sac where the kids play and live.

We learn on the first page that this isn’t the first time the older sister has witnessed death up close. Their five-year-old next-door neighbor is abducted and later found murdered. The novel is quite well written. Winn does an excellent job of capturing every parent’s worst nightmare. This is novel is also a murder mystery.  However, the story’s true strength lies in the sisters’ relationship, particularly the older girl’s heartbeaking inner world.

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“The Missing Hours” by Julia Dahl

Genre: Mystery/Thrillers The Missing hours.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: September 14, 2021

To start with, I have been reviewing mystery and thrillers lately. I have yet to like one. Maybe it is me. Here, a female freshman at NYU is missing. She is the privileged daughter of a famous family. To be fair, the author does not hold back any punches when describing a sexual/rape video of the young woman that goes viral. You will feel the young woman’s physical pain as well as her humiliation. The author lost me with the unbelievable revenge scenes.  If anyone knows of a literary thriller such as The “Talented Mr. Ripley,” by Patricia Highsmith, please let me know.

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“The Push” by Claire McGowan

Genre: Mystery & ThrillersThe Push
Publisher:  Amazon UK
Pub. Date: Nov. 12, 2020

Itsy Bitsy Review

Four women and their partners meet for prenatal meetings.  The characters are all different and interesting. Some you will like and some you will not care for in a big way.  Would you want to hang out with a racist, a homophobic, an ageist, an enabler, or a classist? I promise they are all not like that. Some will break your heart. After the babies are born there is a reunion at an over the top mansion of the richest in the group. Someone is pushed over a balcony and dies. Does the plot sound familiar—yup for me. This novel is a “Big Little Lies,” wannabe. If you ignore all the isims it can read as a good thriller but I have already read this story just with a different name. The ‘woman’ investigator, again like “Lies” is having problems conceiving, which influences her judgment on the suspects.  Okay, a nice touch, and there are twists (not too hard to guess) but I still think this is a wannabe novel.

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“Dangerous Women” by Hope Adams

Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery and ThrillersDangerous Women
Publisher: Berkley
Pub. Date: February 16, 2021

Mini-Review

Let me start off by saying the Adams mixes the genres in this one. This is not the best nor the worst historical fiction that I have read. I always enjoy reading historical facts that reads like fiction, which you will find in this novel. The author takes us back to the year 1841.  The story revolves around a true historical event.  Approximately, 200 English women, who have been convicted for mostly petty crimes are released from their cells. The government places them on the real-life historical vessel named the “Rajah,” which will take them to Australia to start a new life. Adams does a good job showing us how many of the women were forced into a criminal life for survival.  She also nails the dialogue/emotions between her characters on the ship with their bickering, their fears, and sometimes their kindness to one another. On their voyage, they create a real-life giant quilt, which now hangs in the National Gallery of Australia. The author explains that she has seen this Rajah Quilt and it was her inspiration to write this novel. The women received the quilt’s materials from the Ladies Society of England who were promoting the reformation of female prisoners.  On the ship, there is a real-life character from this society who organizes the project. In the novel as well as in actuality she ends up marrying the captain—very sweet. The author surely did her research homework. Through the making of the quilt, we feel the women’s sorrows as well as their hopes, while enjoying their newfound friendships. I found all of this captivating.  Getting back to the mixing of the genres, at the beginning of the book, on the ship, a young mother is killed.  This subplot stays with us throughout the entire story.  I did not think it was necessary and actually took away from the story rather than enhancing it. I kept skimming the murder mystery scenes to get back to the fascinating, old-fashioned, straight historical fiction. If the story stayed in that mode and didn’t throw in a “whodunit,” I would have enjoyed “Dangerous Women” so much more than I did.

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“The Perfect Guests” by Emma Rous

The Perfect Guests

Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Berkley
Pub. Date: Jan. 21, 2020

Mysteries are not usually a genre that I am a fan of, but I did enjoy this one. I found “The Perfect Guests” to be a fun read, though I am not sure if the author would appreciate why I enjoyed her tale. (Will get to that later).  The premise of the novel is an updated version of Agatha Christies’ “And Then There Were None,” which is the story of ten strangers, each lured to a party by a mysterious host. As with “None,” each character in “Guests” receives a deliciously suspicious invitation, because the invite is tailored to their personal circumstances and needs, such as an offer of employment. Once the guests have arrived, the host accuses each person of murder, and one by one, the guests, now suspects, go missing and are found murdered.  A difference in the novels is that in “Guests” the dinner invitation makes clear that this will be a murder/mystery-themed party. (Always wanted to be invited to such a party).  So the reader will find themselves smack in the middle of the board game, Clue, right down to the silly character names.  Instead of Mr. Mustard and Professor Plum, in this novel, we meet Professor Owl and a Lord Nightingale.  In reality, the popular strategy board game was a mediocre game at its best, but how can you not be in a light-hearted mood when you are supposed to be someone named Mr. Mustard. Get my point?

In “Guests” there are two storylines, one in the present another in the 1980s. In the present day, Sadie is an unemployed actress who doesn’t have the money for this month’s rent. Then, lo and behold, she is offered a gig to play the character Miss Lamb (my favorite name in the book is Miss Mouse) in a murder mystery-themed dinner party. The party takes place at the newly restored gothic-like old mansion—tick-tock—named Raven Hall. In the past, we meet Markus, Lenora, and their teenage daughter Nina. They are living in Raven Hall during the house’s glory days. For reasons that truly do not make sense to the reader, they invite fifteen-year-old Beth, who they found in a home for orphans, to live with them as a companion for Nina.  Even Beth wonders why fourteen-year-old Nina needs a “playmate.” But that is one of the author’s many twists. It does seem that Rous throws  just about every far-fetched murder-mystery twist that has ever been written into her novel.

During the present day game/dinner party, all questions from the past are pieced together. The writing during the party scenes has a campy vibe. I do not think that this was the author’s intention; nevertheless, it worked.  If you are as old as I am, you may remember the Carol Brunette Show where they spoofed soap operas and films. These sketches were notorious for overusing loud organ music when something sinister was about to happen in whatever production they were recreating.  Well, that is how I read this novel, as a parody.  I could almost hear the creepy organ pipes. In hindsight, I probably enjoyed this novel because I went in not expecting an Agatha Christie superior style of writing. Still, Rous’ style is entertaining.  And to be fair, I did not guess every single twist.  So, if you are in the mood for a light murder mystery, I suggest you give this one a try.  And, if you are in a party mood, read it with a friend while dressed up in Clue board game character costumes, and see who can figure out who the murderer is first.

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“Don’t Look for Me” by Wendy Walker

Genre: General FictionDon't Look for me
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: September 15, 2020

First off, this is not general fiction as marketed.  This novel is a mystery and thriller and a below-average one at that. I can see by my fellow reviewers that I am an outlier here.  After a family tragedy, a mother disappears and is believed to be an adult runaway; turns out to be a much creepier explanation.  I can see how this could have been a good thriller if the characters were not so unrealistic especially, the mom during her ordeal. Actually, I found all the characters to be one-dimensional. This one simply just wasn’t for me.  If you are currently reading, “Don’t Look for Me,” I hope you enjoy it more than I did.

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“The Silent Patient” by Alex Michaelides

Genre:  Mystery & ThrillersThe Silent Patient
Publisher:  Celadon Books
Pub. Date:  February 5, 2019

Mini Review

I need to start this review by saying that I guessed the big twist early on in the novel.  This does not mean that I didn’t enjoy this crime thriller, for I did.  The story revolves around Alicia Berenson a 33-old woman who kills her husband.  Tied in a chair, she shoots him five times in the face. Creepy. She stops speaking immediately after the murder.  She is a painter by profession.  Her only communication is through a self-portrait she paints weeks after the murder, titled “Alcestis.” I enjoyed that the author throws his readers a clue in the form of a Greek tragedy. Don’t worry if you never heard of the play, I hadn’t, it is explained to you.  And no, the painting’s title was not the tip-off for me.

There is a short trial. Alicia receives a guilty verdict.  Due to her hysterical silence, she is sentenced to a psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. Her psychotherapist, Theo Faber, narrates the story. I found his voice unreliable.  He jumps around in time without letting the reader know.  The narration is also unrealistic. Too much psychobabble.  Thrillers are usually only good when you don’t see the twist coming.  So why did I keep reading? Probably because Michaelides gives us many shady suspects throughout the tale. I kept hoping that I guessed wrong. “Silent” is not a particularly well written novel, still it is a fun ride that should be read in the middle of the night with a tired mind.  You may just find yourself questioning your own sanity.

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“Little Secrets” by Jennifer Hillier

Genre:  Mystery & ThrillerLittle Secrets
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:  April 21, 2020

Mini-Review

The story is a decent read regarding a young child’s abduction. It could have been a very good read. It is written as a mystery. This makes sense because when the child is kidnapped and there is no ransom note what else can it be other than a mystery? But, the story is written basically as a thriller with all sorts of twists. (I guess I should have looked at the cover). This is where the author lost me. Other ARC reviewers seem to love this book. I guess I should have paid more attention to the genre. I thought I was reading a family tragedy story, not a twisty tale. Still, the author did a good job regarding the heartbroken parents, especially the mother’s overwhelming pain and guilt. The missing-child support group scenes are very well written. You can feel just how brutal it must be to not know if your child is dead or alive.  It is these scenes that I found fascinating, not the mixing of genres. But if you want a Jillian Flynn read then this is the book for you.

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“The Arrangement” by Robyn Harding

Genre:  Mystery & ThrillersThe Arrangement
Publisher:  Gallery/Scout Press
Publication Date:  July 30, 2019

Mini-Review

I would only recommend this book to a starving high school and a college girl who is considering entering a sugar daddy/sugar baby relationship because they have seen the movie “Pretty Woman” and believes that film was true to life.  The mystery isn’t until the very end of the book.   It feels like the author does a one-eighty.  Suddenly you are reading a murder-mystery.   Other reviewers enjoyed this novel.  You may too.  But I am surprised that I made it to the last page.  I do give the author some credit for researching and interviewing real-life sugar babies.  Still, the whole story has a feel of teenage drama, ending with a predictable twist.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“The Escape Room” by Megan Goldin

Genre:          Mystery and ThrillersThe Escape Room
Publisher:    St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date:    July 30, 2019

A publicist from St. Martin’s Press contacted me to read and review this book, which I find hard to review.  The plot is simple and predictable, not to mention implausible.   The twist is a cinch to figure out and yet, interestingly, I enjoyed the story.   Possibly, this is because most of the story could be straight out of the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” which I, and most moviegoers, thoroughly enjoyed.  (If you are too young to know the film, google it).

I would say that the book is more a psychological thriller than a mystery. The novel reveals the cut-throat world of Wall Street corporate finance, where greed and corruption rule.   Four hot-shot financial dealers work and live in a world of million-dollar salaries—designer everything.  We are talking $11,000 for a pocketbook to be bought in numerous colors.  And all four would turn on their grandmother to ensure they keep their million-dollar salaries.  Think of the character Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street.”  Gekko says to the young new financial advisor, “The main thing about money, Bud, is that it makes you do things you don’t want to do.”  And these four have done some horrible things to ensure they have numerous $10,000 wristwatches.  I thought the author did overkill in writing about their ridiculous spending habits but she proved her point.  These four coworkers, who you will love to hate, are summoned into an elevator in the belief that they are engaging in some sort of team-building exercise.  The reader knows from the prologue that bullet shots are heard from the elevator.  It is not a team-building experience but a revenge plot against the four.

There are two timelines in the novel told in the first and third person.  The four characters trapped in the elevator are told in the third person.  The second timeline follows a young woman who graduated at the top of her class with an MBA.  She sacrifices food and all her savings to buy an interview suit to look the part for a job in a top-tier finance company.  She gets the job and works as the bottom link with the hot-shots.  Her narrative is a bit boring.  The author clearly wants a good vs. evil theme so, I guess, she is needed to have a moral character in the story.  What kept my attention, even when things got a bit tedious, is just how horrible the other four actually are.  How far would they go to ensure their hefty bonuses?   This one is unquestionably movie material.  If you go in knowing the novel’s flaws, you will be able to enjoy the elevator ride.

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