Book Review: The Family Upstairs

Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

In The Family Upstairs, the master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.

Lisa Jewell’s seventeenth novel, “The Family Upstairs” was a lot to take in.  From the novel’s prologue up until the final chapter, I couldn’t put the book down.  It urges you to flip one more page until you find yourself a page left before the Acknowledgments.  Having read the book’s final lines, I found myself having to deal with the aftermath of emotional reverberations.

Lined with a gripping storyline, seared with Gothic elements and literary irony, Jewell has written a story of innocence lost and lives stolen and how those betrayed of their childhood would do anything to claim what was rightfully theirs.  

Jewell’s enigmatic and descriptive writing style is enough to hook you.  Her writing technique changes for every character that doesn’t just highlight the writing skill of the author but also helps set character behaviors apart.  

The multiple first-person POVs were expertly done balancing out the suspense as the readers go through each of the character’s narrative.  Jewell has written the chapters in such a way that she ends every chapter with a cliffhanger. The alternating POVs were laid out in a manner that responds to the baffling questions raised in the previous chapter.  Jewell has done a masterful job transitioning between dual timeframes that being transported into different scenes felt like a real palpable journey for the readers.

But unlike many other thriller novels, “The Family Upstairs” rejects the usual murder mystery trope found in most books of the same genre.  This novel offers its readers something else entirely: a narrative about getting back what was once lost. It is predominantly a novel about the relationship between parents and their children and how families differ from one another.   Several times throughout the novel I found myself rooting for a happy ending begging myself not to turn a page for fear of a darker plot twist. But the underlying thrill in settling for mystery novels asserts an irrevocable fact: the more sinister it gets, the better. 

Despite gaining mixed reviews, “The Family Upstairs” is one of the few novels that truly captivated me from start to finish.  It is riveting, twisted but metamorphic. It consumed me, scared me out of my wits but in the end, it made me understand how important family is.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Lisa Jewell

Genre: Mystery and Thriller

Length: 352 pages

Publisher: Atria Books (November 5, 2019)

ISBN-10: 1501190105

ISBN-13: 978-1501190100

Book Review: Verity

Lowen Ashleigh is a struggling writer on the brink of financial ruin when she accepts the job offer of a lifetime. Jeremy Crawford, husband of bestselling author Verity Crawford, has hired Lowen to complete the remaining books in a successful series his injured wife is unable to finish.

Lowen arrives at the Crawford home, ready to sort through years of Verity’s notes and outlines, hoping to find enough material to get her started. What Lowen doesn’t expect to uncover in the chaotic office is an unfinished autobiography Verity never intended for anyone to read. Page after page of bone-chilling admissions, including Verity’s recollection of what really happened the day her daughter died.

Lowen decides to keep the manuscript hidden from Jeremy, knowing its contents would devastate the already grieving father. But as Lowen’s feelings for Jeremy begin to intensify, she recognizes all the ways she could benefit if he were to read his wife’s words. After all, no matter how devoted Jeremy is to his injured wife, a truth this horrifying would make it impossible for him to continue to love her.

Prior to reading “Verity”, a romantic thriller by the bestselling author Colleen Hoover, I devoured her most recent book, “Regretting You”: a domestic and romance fiction narrative that I ultimately rated five stars.  Transitioning from a heart-wrenching romance story to a thriller, both from the same author, catapulted me into a series of emotions that transfixed my heart into danger mode.  

“Verity” is hands down unputdownable.  Colleen Hoover is known for her romance novels and for her to shift into different genres was a breath of fresh air and a sea change well worth the wait. It is one of those few mystery novels that will keep you on your toes and will leave you up all night.  The Gothic elements infused within her novel is enough to haunt its readers. But “Verity” is all these things and more. It is first and foremost a romance thriller although some would argue that the romantic element falls underneath the mystery and suspense Hoover’s narrative explores.  The disturbing imagery, gory details, and a somewhat allusion to E.L James’: “Fifty Shades of Grey” were all suspensefully built around Hoover’s compelling narrative.  

A word of caution though: thread this novel lightly as trigger warnings abound.  Unwanted pregnancy (abortion), child abuse, and murder are all vividly detailed and many times throughout the novel I wished I never had read parts of it.  It was that disturbing.  

The book held me spellbound on how the truth will unravel.  I swore this narrative kept me guessing right till its finale.  Though a riveting plot twist is highly expected of a suspense thriller, any prediction could go several ways.  The open-ended ending may baffle and unnerve most readers but I’d wager it’s what made the novel utterly controversial and haunting. 

Overall, Colleen Hoover’s “Verity” did not just appease my love for thrillers but it enkindled an insight into the enigma of womanhood and how desire and greed work concurrently leading to bad choices. A gripping tale of one strong female protagonist against another, “Verity” made me question if reality is indeed stranger than fiction.  

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Colleen Hoover

Genre: Romance Thriller

Length: 331 pages

Publisher: Independently published (December 10, 2018)

ISBN-10: 1791392792

ISBN-13: 978-1791392796

Book Review: Regretting You

Morgan Grant and her sixteen-year-old daughter, Clara, would like nothing more than to be nothing alike.

Morgan is determined to prevent her daughter from making the same mistakes she did. By getting pregnant and married way too young, Morgan put her own dreams on hold. Clara doesn’t want to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Her predictable mother doesn’t have a spontaneous bone in her body.

With warring personalities and conflicting goals, Morgan and Clara find it increasingly difficult to coexist. The only person who can bring peace to the household is Chris—Morgan’s husband, Clara’s father, and the family anchor. But that peace is shattered when Chris is involved in a tragic and questionable accident. The heartbreaking and long-lasting consequences will reach far beyond just Morgan and Clara.

While struggling to rebuild everything that crashed around them, Morgan finds comfort in the last person she expects to, and Clara turns to the one boy she’s been forbidden to see. With each passing day, new secrets, resentment, and misunderstandings make mother and daughter fall further apart. So far apart, it might be impossible for them to ever fall back together.

If only there are precise books on “How to Raise the Perfect Teenagers” then any parent would have invested in those self-help books and somehow raising teens can be a breeze.  But every teen is different as every parent is. Relationships between parents and their children run along different roads ending up different paths.  

There are a lot of novels written along the same lines that the family drama trope can either draw more readers due to its relatability or tagged as overused and redundant that it loses its charm.  But family drama as a literary genre has already established its thematic map. Readers love the conflicts and the resolutions thereafter. “Regretting You” by Colleen Hoover takes the readers to the conflicts that come to light after a tragic accident placed a mother and her daughter’s relationship to the test.  A mostly common trope but one that resonates with mothers and how raising a child was both a struggle and a fulfillment. Morgan and Clara’s narrative sheds light on how a mother finds the strength to raise her only daughter despite the pain and anguish she had to endure while shielding her daughter from the bitter truth of her husband’s accident. 

This novel stretches out beyond the mother and daughter relationship but the subterfuge with which a betrayed partner had to face.   We get to look at how Morgan’s predictable character made her question her initial choices and sacrifices. How she wished she could have done things differently. Hoover’s differing characters are the heart and soul of this novel.

POV, Writing Style, & Atmosphere

The author made use of an alternating first-person point of view shifting between Morgan and Clara.  Hoover’s writing style is straightforward but her emotions are raw and earnest. The humorous exchanges and dialogues are done just right rarely an attempt at cloying to the point of being nauseating. A combination of light and heavy scenes were alternately done to balance the atmosphere. 

  • Coming of Age
  • Betrayal 
  • Forgiveness
  • Mother and daughter relationship 
  • Love

At its core, “Regretting You” is a masterfully told novel that explores the complex journey of Morgan and Clara as they find themselves at odds with each other after the tragedy that left them forever scarred. It is a narrative that reminds us how flawed and disapproving mothers are but also forgiving and brave.  It brings about the fact that parents cannot always expect their children to turn out the way they wanted them to be just as children cannot expect their parents to be perfect. But what the author drives at with her novel are the sacrifices that Morgan had to endure both as a wife and a mother. Hoover takes us to the realization that there are no perfect marriages and no absolute formula for raising children. Communication is part key and acceptance and forgiveness are necessary in order to move forward.  Overall, this novel is an act of love; one that makes us question our choices and principles despite our good intentions, but love ultimately collects the broken pieces together.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Colleen Hoover

Genre: Women’s Domestic Life Fiction / Romance Fiction

Length: 365 pages

Publisher: Montlake (December 10, 2019)

ISBN-10: 1542016428

ISBN-13: 978-1542016421

My Most Anticipated Reads for 2020

Surely 2019 is coming to a close yet we are torn whether to love or hate it.  As exciting as it is to welcome the new year with a bang, there are those who seek closure from an entire year that went by so fast.  Good or bad, as creatures of habit, we bid goodbye to 2019 saddened by all things that failed us but hopeful for yet a second chance at trying to fix things come 2020.  Oh yes, I’m aware that I’ve fallen into an emotional trap of sentimentality but that is how it is every year. Now back to reading, just as we’ve all had our bad seasons, we tend to compensate for all the reading challenges that we’ve failed to accomplish.  We are weeks away from hitting our reset buttons–hopeful for yet another chance at exceeding our reading goals. So, for all of you bookworms out there here’s to a grand start as we all welcome the new year with new and exciting reads that will hook us once again to the magnificent stories written by our well-loved and soon to love authors. 


Author: Jeanine Cummins

Length: 400 pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books (January 21, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250209765

ISBN-13: 978-1250209764

Already being hailed as “a Grapes of Wrath for our times” and “a new American classic,” American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.

Lydia Quixano Perez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with four books he would like to buy–two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a page-turner; it is a literary achievement; it is filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.


Author: Kiley Reid

Length: 320 pages

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons (December 31, 2019)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 052554190X

ISBN-13: 978-0525541905

A striking and surprising debut novel from an exhilarating new voice, Such a Fun Age is a page-turning and big-hearted story about race and privilege, set around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer, and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living showing other women how to do the same. A mother to two small girls, she started out as a blogger and has quickly built herself into a confidence-driven brand. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler one night. Seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, a security guard at their local high-end supermarket accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make it right.

But Emira herself is aimless, broke, and wary of Alix’s desire to help. At twenty-five, she is about to lose her health insurance and has no idea what to do with her life. When the video of Emira unearths someone from Alix’s past, both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about themselves, and each other.

With empathy and piercing social commentary, Such a Fun Age explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone “family,” the complicated reality of being a grown up, and the consequences of doing the right thing for the wrong reason.


Author: Iona Grey

Length: 480 pages

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (December 10, 2019)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250066794

ISBN-13: 978-1250066794

An unforgettable historical about true love found and lost and the secrets we keep from one another from an award-winning author

Selina Lennox is a Bright Young Thing. Her life is a whirl of parties and drinking, pursued by the press and staying on just the right side of scandal, all while running from the life her parents would choose for her.

Lawrence Weston is a penniless painter who stumbles into Selina’s orbit one night and can never let her go even while knowing someone of her stature could never end up with someone of his. Except Selina falls hard for Lawrence, envisioning a life of true happiness. But when tragedy strikes, Selina finds herself choosing what’s safe over what’s right.

Spanning two decades and a seismic shift in British history as World War II approaches, Iona Grey’s The Glittering Hour is an epic novel of passion, heartache and loss.


Author: Liz Moore

Length: 496 pages

Publisher: Riverhead Books (January 7, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0525540679

ISBN-13: 978-0525540670

Two sisters travel the same streets,though their lives couldn’t be more different.

Then one of them goes missing.

In a Philadelphia neighborhood rocked by the opioid crisis, two once-inseparable sisters find themselves at odds. One, Kacey, lives on the streets in the vise of addiction. The other, Mickey, walks those same blocks on her police beat. They don’t speak anymore, but Mickey never stops worrying about her sibling.

Then Kacey disappears, suddenly, at the same time that a mysterious string of murders begins in Mickey’s district, and Mickey becomes dangerously obsessed with finding the culprit–and her sister–before it’s too late.

Alternating its present-day mystery with the story of the sisters’ childhood and adolescence, Long Bright River is at once heart-pounding and heart-wrenching: a gripping suspense novel that is also a moving story of sisters, addiction, and the formidable ties that persist between place, family, and fate.


Author: Andrea Bartz

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 24, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1984826360

ISBN-13: 978-1984826367

When an exclusive New York women’s workspace is rocked by the mysterious disappearance of its enigmatic founder, two sisters must uncover the haunting truth before they lose their friendships, their careers–maybe even their lives.

The name of the elite, women-only coworking space stretches across the wall behind the check-in desk: THE HERD, the H-E-R always in purple. In-the-know New Yorkers crawl over each other to apply for membership to this community that prides itself on mentorship and empowerment. Among the hopefuls is Katie Bradley, who’s just returned from the Midwest after a stint of book research blew up in her face. Luckily, Katie has an “in,” thanks to her sister Hana, an original Herder and the best friend of Eleanor Walsh, its charismatic founder.

Eleanor is a queen among The Herd’s sun-filled rooms, admired and quietly feared, even as she strives to be warm and approachable. As head of PR, Hana is working around the clock in preparation for a huge announcement from Eleanor–one that would change the trajectory of The Herd forever. Though Katie loves her sister’s crew, she secretly hopes she’s found her next book subject in Eleanor, who’s brilliant, trailblazing–and extremely private.

Then, on the night of the glitzy Herd news conference, Eleanor vanishes without a trace. Everybody has a theory about what made Eleanor run, but when the police suspect foul play, everyone is a suspect: Eleanor’s husband, other Herders, the men’s rights groups that have had it out for The Herd since its launch–even Eleanor’s closest friends. As Hana struggles to figure out what her friend was hiding and Katie chases the story of her life, the sisters must face down the secrets they’re keeping from each other–and confront just how dangerous it can be when women’s perfect veneers start to crack, crumble, and then fall away all together.


Author: Simone St. James

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Berkley (February 18, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0440000173

ISBN-13: 978-0440000174

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden.


Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Length: 320 pages

Publisher: Knopf (March 24, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0525521143

ISBN-13: 978-0525521143

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star hotel on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Leon Prevant, a shipping executive for Neptune-Avradimis, reads the words and orders a drink to calm down. Alkaitis, the owner of the hotel and a wealthy investment manager, arrives too late to read the threat, never knowing it was intended for him. He leaves Vincent a hundred dollar tip along with his business card, and a year later they are living together as husband and wife.

High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. He holds the life savings of an artist named Olivia Collins, the fortunes of a Saudi prince and his extended family, and countless retirement funds, including Leon Prevant’s. The collapse of the financial empire is as swift as it is devastating, obliterating fortunes and lives, while Vincent walks away into the night. Until, years later, she steps aboard a Neptune-Avramidis vessel, the Neptune Cumberland, and disappears from the ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.


Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Length: 384 pages

Publisher: William Morrow (March 10, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 006294150X

ISBN-13: 978-0062941503

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.


Author: Louise Erdrich

Length: 464 pages

Publisher: Harper (March 3, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0062671189

ISBN-13: 978-0062671189

Thomas Wazhashk is the night watchman at the jewel bearing plant, the first factory located near the Turtle Mountain Reservation in rural North Dakota. He is also a Chippewa Council member who is trying to understand the consequences of a new “emancipation” bill on its way to the floor of the United States Congress. It is 1953 and he and the other council members know the bill isn’t about freedom; Congress is fed up with Indians. The bill is a “termination” that threatens the rights of Native Americans to their land and their very identity. How can the government abandon treaties made in good faith with Native Americans “for as long as the grasses shall grow, and the rivers run”?

Since graduating high school, Pixie Paranteau has insisted that everyone call her Patrice. Unlike most of the girls on the reservation, Patrice, the class valedictorian, has no desire to wear herself down with a husband and kids. She makes jewel bearings at the plant, a job that barely pays her enough to support her mother and brother. Patrice’s shameful alcoholic father returns home sporadically to terrorize his wife and children and bully her for money. But Patrice needs every penny to follow her beloved older sister, Vera, who moved to the big city of Minneapolis. Vera may have disappeared; she hasn’t been in touch in months, and is rumored to have had a baby. Determined to find Vera and her child, Patrice makes a fateful trip to Minnesota that introduces her to unexpected forms of exploitation and violence, and endangers her life.

Thomas and Patrice live in this impoverished reservation community along with young Chippewa boxer Wood Mountain and his mother Juggie Blue, her niece and Patrice’s best friend Valentine, and Stack Barnes, the white high school math teacher and boxing coach who is hopelessly in love with Patrice.

In the Night Watchman, Louise Erdrich creates a fictional world populated with memorable characters who are forced to grapple with the worst and best impulses of human nature. Illuminating the loves and lives, the desires and ambitions of these characters with compassion, wit, and intelligence, The Night Watchman is a majestic work of fiction from this revered cultural treasure.


Author: Bethany Morrow

Length: 288 pages

Publisher: Tor Teen (June 2, 2020)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1250315328

ISBN-13: 978-1250315328

Tavia is already at odds with the world, forced to keep her siren identity under wraps in a society that wants to keep her kind under lock and key. Nevermind she’s also stuck in Portland, Oregon, a city with only a handful of black folk and even fewer of those with magical powers. At least she has her bestie Effie by her side as they tackle high school drama, family secrets, and unrequited crushes.

But everything changes in the aftermath of a siren murder trial that rocks the nation; the girls’ favorite Internet fashion icon reveals she’s also a siren, and the news rips through their community. Tensions escalate when Effie starts being haunted by demons from her past, and Tavia accidentally lets out her magical voice during a police stop. No secret seems safe anymore—soon Portland won’t be either.

Book Review: Lock Every Door

When everything has been taken from you–your parents, your only sibling, your job, your boyfriend–which sums up just about your entire life–would you be willing to take anything offered your way in exchange for money and a temporary luxury?

“Lock Every Door” by Riley Sager follows the story of Jules Larsen who responded to an ad hiring an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, an upscale but concealed apartment building in Manhattan that houses only the rich and famous.  Jules apparently would accept anything that could provide her with food and shelter let alone housesit a luxurious apartment unit. Parentless and jobless, Jules was beyond belief in her acceptance to the Bartholomew. It was for Jules a lifesaver–a press away on a reset button that will make her forget about her tragic past and start life anew. 

But Jules suspected her predicament to being too good to be true.

As she unravels the truth about the Bartholomew — the real reason behind its reputation for secrecy — Jules finally comes face to face with her tragic fate.  After all, everything comes with a price.

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story—until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

POV, Writing Style and Atmosphere

The author immediately established the atmosphere of mystery by opening the novel set in the present day with Jules having encountered an accident.  This writing style conditions the reader of the threat that already happened with the protagonist and an ominous fact was established when she begged not to be returned to the Bartholomew. Sager utilized an immersive first-person POV for the protagonist and used direct and not overly elaborate sentences, but his use of descriptive imagery allowed the readers to imagine visual representations of the novel’s setting.   The dual timelines also proved advantageous setting the build-up for the novel’s plot twist. 

The author didn’t shy away from infusing gothic elements: the portent history of the Bartholomew, satanic cult, suicide, death, footsteps approaching, sinister objects: the dumbwaiter, diabolic symbols are just to name a few.  These elements gave the novel a darker atmosphere creating a sense of foreboding and unease.


(Stop at this point if you have not read the book)

There is so much to say about this novel that I cannot expressively put into words.  The mystery and suspense genre has become popular over the years because of its strong hook among readers.  But not all novels of the genre have exhibited the same level of well-structured chapters and riveting conclusions.  Only a few can create such a disturbing impact that long after you have read such novels, you find yourself going back to every chapter.  This is how I describe Riley Sager’s unputdownable book due to its sheer unpredictability.

I also can’t help but gush on Sager’s choice of tropes for his novel that just when you thought you have uncovered the cult holding the dark secrets of the Bartholomew, it will leave you breathless once again with another plot twist.  It was an exhilarating ride and this novel is deserving of the television series it scored with Paramount. 

Overall, “Lock Every Door” is a terrifying masterpiece and I’m not just referring to the build-up of suspense and mystery revealing whodunit as the novel’s culmination.  I am referring to the social relevance of Sager’s novel on Human Organ Trafficking and Social Inequality. Sager has raised awareness of the issues on a global scale — how illegal organ trade is real and has become a prevalent crime than we are possibly made aware of.  The exploitation behind existing organized crime syndicates that handle black market organ trading is more disturbing and macabre than any fictional narrative written on the topic. Moreso on the issue of how despairing people of affluence who needed immediate transplants, feel they are overly privileged and more entitled to live their lives, that they can get away with moral obligations.  Sager visibly demarcated the line between the wealthy and the underprivileged sectors by narrating the severe exploitation of those who are financially desperate and marginally poor as nothing but dispensable variables in the social hierarchy. In the end, Jules made a choice to put an end to the problem. In the real world, the issue of illegal organ trading will continue to proliferate as long as global inequality remains unresolved.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Riley Sager

Genre: Mystery and Thriller

Length: 384 pages

Publisher: Dutton (July 2, 2019)

ISBN-10:  1524745146

ISBN-13:  978-1524745141

Book Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Love in the time of tragedy is the most sacred form of love.  

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” by Heather Morris tells the story of Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, who was plunged into the horrors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death concentration camp meant as the culmination of the anti-Semitic policies of Nazi Germany.  The killing of some six million Jews marked one, if not the most tragic time in the history of mankind. It is almost always inevitable to grieve for such human conditions while celebrating the remarkable tales of those who survived the savagery of the Holocaust.  Lale Sokolov’s journey was no exception. From his sheer optimism to an intense transition to hatred against his circumstances and the Nazis, Lale’s narrative brought us to the power of love and how small acts of kindness and bravery amidst the harrowing atrocities he endured led to his survival and that of other prisoners.

In April 1942, Lale Sokolov, a Slovakian Jew, is forcibly transported to the concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. When his captors discover that he speaks several languages, he is put to work as a Tätowierer (the German word for tattooist), tasked with permanently marking his fellow prisoners.

Imprisoned for more than two and a half years, Lale witnesses horrific atrocities and barbarism—but also incredible acts of bravery and compassion. Risking his own life, he uses his privileged position to exchange jewels and money from murdered Jews for food to keep his fellow prisoners alive.

One day in July 1942, Lale, prisoner 32407, comforts a trembling young woman waiting in line to have the number 34902 tattooed onto her arm. Her name is Gita, and in that first encounter, Lale vows to somehow survive the camp and marry her.

A vivid, harrowing, and ultimately hopeful re-creation of Lale Sokolov’s experiences as the man who tattooed the arms of thousands of prisoners with what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is also a testament to the endurance of love and humanity under the darkest possible conditions.

POV, Writing Style & Atmosphere

The author made use of the third-person omniscient POV allowing the readers to identify with the protagonist through his backstory and discourses.  It was kind of surprising that the novel was an easy read compared with other historical fiction novels that reveal beautiful exposition and flowery narration. Yet, Morris’ descriptive writing helped made the characters interesting and identifiable owing to the novel’s intriguing plot.  The novel’s atmosphere is grim and sad but historically authentic.

As much as there are riveting and suspenseful scenes in the novel, I felt the story didn’t eventually get the finale it had been building towards all the way.  Lale Sokolov’s story was truly sad and heart-wrenching but worthy of admiration. However, I didn’t encounter moments of profound intensity and emotion as I normally would have after reading historical fiction novels like Kristin Hannah’s “The Nightingale” and Amor Towles “A Gentleman in Moscow”.  These novels were written beautifully using detailed imagery and lyrical description. The narrative of “The Tattooist of Auschwitz” may be engaging as one would not find it hard to read yet, I found myself yearning for more embellished writing that can add more depth to the novel’s foreboding atmosphere.  The writing is bland for my taste and the anticipation was not granted justice in the end. The ending felt too abrupt despite the interwoven storylines. The extenuating feature of the novel appears to be the fate of both Lale and Gita who found love amidst their situation but even the much-anticipated denouement fell short of expectations.  

“The Tattooist of Auschwitz” explored the harrowing events during the World War II genocide of the European Jews from the point of view of one surviving prisoner.  It delved into the opposite extremes of human behavior: good vs evil. The readers are given yet another angle of what transpired during the Holocaust, this time giving emphasis to a love story that seems inappropriate at a time like this. Notwithstanding the atrocities of the German soldiers and the seemingly hopeless morality of the prisoners, the book embodies how humans are willed to survive by simply realizing an internal purpose that seeks to preserve others.  How one’s willingness to survive is in itself a form of defiance against the cruelty of the Germans. Morris has also given the readers a picture of how small acts of kindness and selflessness could save lives. Lale’s impulse to help others by providing extra food rations while inspiring optimism to others became the life and soul of this book.  

Overall, despite flaws in the writing,  this is an inspiring novel that seeks to restore faith in humanity.  It sends a clear message of hope and encouragement in difficult times.  This also serves as an unequivocal proof that Holocaust stories will continue to be relevant as no single account is enough to remind us of the horrific tragedies of the Holocaust that brought out conflicting human emotions, adverse behaviors, and heroic acts of sacrifice. 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 288 pages

Publisher: Harper (September 4, 2018)

ISBN-10: 006287067X

ISBN-13: 978-0062870674

Book Review: The Flatshare

What thoughts could possibly permeate your brain at every single moment of the person you have never met but whom you share a flat with–let alone a bed with? Does it not feel strange? Do thoughts of how your flatmate looks like in real life ever pop in your head? Or do you simply not care at all as long as the rent is justifiable and the binding rules suit you? 

Gloriously funny and infinitely adorable: these are the words I conclusively describe Beth O’Leary’s romance novel, “The Flatshare”. The usual premise of a contemporary romance novel is downright unambiguous from girl meets boy, girl falls in love with the boy, girl loses the boy, then loose ends are patched up, setting the pace for the predictably happy ending. The plot may be linear, familiar, and cliched but these are the elements that make romance novels so popular among readers.  But what compels readers to romcom novels like “The Flatshare” is not the discernible ending but the humorous (zingers-wise) and engaging journey that brought the fated characters together.

Tiffy Moore needs a cheap flat, and fast. Leon Twomey works nights and needs cash. Their friends think they’re crazy, but it’s the perfect solution: Leon occupies the one-bed flat while Tiffy’s at work in the day, and she has the run of the place the rest of the time.

But with obsessive ex-boyfriends, demanding clients at work, wrongly imprisoned brothers and, of course, the fact that they still haven’t met yet, they’re about to discover that if you want the perfect home you need to throw the rulebook out the window

The story introduces us to Tiffany Moore, an assistant book editor who was out looking for an affordable flat after she decided to move out of the one she shared with her cheating ex-boyfriend, Justin.  Luckily, she found a one-bed flat advert in Stockwell occupied by a twenty-seven-year-old palliative nurse, Leon Twomey, who works at night so she can have her bedshare while he is out. It seems like the perfect flatshare agreement money-wise with an implied rule that Tiffy and Leon need not necessarily meet.  All is well for Tiffy and Leon except for the fact that she is still hung up with her ex, while Leon is constantly weighed down by his girlfriend, Kay. With an obsessive ex-boyfriend and a demanding girlfriend, the two came to communicate via Post-it notes they leave for each other around the flat. When they finally meet, all rules break loose as they discover how despite of their opposite personalities, they came to reconcile their differences, finding love in the end.

POV, Writing Style & Atmosphere

The author made use of alternate first-person POVs for the main characters: Tiffy and Leon.  O’Leary’s prose is characterized by straightforward but detailed lines for Tiffy’s character, while she made use of concise but descriptive words, infused with script-style conversation for Leon’s segments.  O’Leary’s writing style matches the individuality of the two characters. While writing style for Tiff is spontaneous, blunt, wordy and animated, Leon’s is reserved and withdrawn as evident with the use of two-word sentences and some fragments which magnify Leon’s timid but observant character. The novel’s tone is light and feel-good.  The dialogues were funny one-liners and the witty remarks made the book truly unputdownable.

  • Opposites attract
  • Home is where you make it
  • Sibling relationship
  • Friendship
  • Emotional abuse/manipulation
  • Toxic relationship

What I love most about this book is how the author stayed true to the facets of the romance genre. O’ Leary has given us a sympathetic heroine in Tiffy and a logical but introverted archetypal hero in Leon that readers can immediately fall in love with.  The physical attraction between the two characters is ever pervasive mostly when the author describes Leon’s mental images of Tiffy. Another remarkable asset of this novel is the build-up of sexual tension and O’Leary definitely delivered on that aspect (cue bathroom scene).  The author also creatively used contemporary settings and modern-day conflicts but there are sections in the novel that are reminiscent of traditional romantic elements.

This is the kind of romance novel that makes you hopeful about love all throughout. O’Leary’s characters are all likable and compelling, easily identifiable and relatable. Although the mushy ending is quite formulaic, it doesn’t take away the fact that narratives of the romance genre still excite the readers, providing escapism.  Overall, “The Flatshare” commits to the core of the romance genre by concluding a story that asserts the value of love and constructive relationships while satisfying the readers with its humorous appeal.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Beth O’ Leary

Genre: Romance

Length: 336 pages

Publisher: Flatiron Books, (May 28, 2019)

ISBN-10: 1250295637

ISBN-13: 978-1250295637

Book Review: The Whisper Man

Life is brimming with bad people and equally bad situations and it is a parent’s job to protect his child from the unknown danger that lurks even in the safest of places.  This is the premise of “The Whisper Man” by Alex North, a story about a father and his son picking up the pieces and starting life anew from a tragic loss that came to pass their lives.  Tom Kennedy, emotionally burdened by the loss of his wife had been struggling with the difficulty of raising his seven-year-old son, Jake. Scarred by childhood memories, Tom does his best to be a doting father to his son, urging himself on until he could break the unseen barrier in their relationship.  Jake keeps mostly to himself, socially withdrawn from the world but emotionally intelligent for his age. Despite Tom’s efforts, he finds it hard to fill in the hole that Jake had reserved only for his mother. His son’s creation of an imaginary friend–his dependence and need for it– frustrates Tom’s desire for normalcy. With the prospect of moving into a  new home in Featherbank, Tom seeks to repair their lives. Prepared to turn a new leaf, Tom and Jake were ushered into the maddening truth of what transpired twenty years ago — the abduction and murder of five children and the arrest of a known serial killer, Frank Carter, referred to as “The Whisper Man”. As Tom bridges his relationship with his son, he finds himself reconnecting to a past he had wanted so much to forget. It all began when a shred of evidence connected to the Whisper Man was found in the strange house they now call home.

After the sudden death of his wife, Tom Kennedy believes a fresh start will help him and his young son Jake heal. A new beginning, a new house, a new town. Featherbank.

But the town has a dark past. Twenty years ago, a serial killer abducted and murdered five residents. Until Frank Carter was finally caught, he was nicknamed “The Whisper Man,” for he would lure his victims out by whispering at their windows at night.

Just as Tom and Jake settle into their new home, a young boy vanishes. His disappearance bears an unnerving resemblance to Frank Carter’s crimes, reigniting old rumors that he preyed with an accomplice. Now, detectives Amanda Beck and Pete Willis must find the boy before it is too late, even if that means Pete has to revisit his great foe in prison: The Whisper Man.

And then Jake begins acting strangely. He hears a whispering at his window…


North’s writing made use of alternate Point of View (POV), shifting from a first POV for Tom’s character to a third person POV for Jake, Pete Willis, Francis Carter, and Amanda Beck.  The multiple narratives were written seamlessly providing the readers with much exhilarating anticipation for what’s to come next.  

The imagery depicted in North’s writing is palpable.  His writing style made use of a combination of simple and elaborate words, using short sentences and fragments.  His narrative is filled with visual imagery despite being an easy-read novel.  

North’s descriptive language, fused with Gothic elements such as the strange house, dark hallways,  supernatural element (Jake’s imaginary friend), nightmares, whispers in the night, and death, set the novel’s dark and creepy atmosphere. 

  • Father and son relationship
  • Reverberations of Trauma
  • Forgiveness

I have tons of sentiments about this book that I couldn’t quite place eloquently.  This novel created a huge buzz for some time, scoring a film adaptation deal optioned by brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, and has made it to the final cut of Goodreads Best Mystery and Thriller category for 2019.  So far things have been going well for Alex North’s “The Whisper Man”, but the thing about most hyped novels is that once the expectations have been set on high, it conditions the readers to expect so much more. On the contrary, this novel didn’t just live up to my expectations; this one touched my heart and soul. It broke pieces of me here and there, feeling the exact same solace running through the vein of every character. There is so much more to this novel than the usual whodunit plot. North’s take on a mystery crime novel was not singled in on its plot as most books in the same genre have traversed.  This novel is much a character-driven plot as it is simply plot-driven.  

But the most remarkable aspect of this novel was how the author delved not just into the relationship between Tom and Jake but of Pete and Tom’s, and Frank and Francis’ relationship. The readers are presented with three differing kinship sculptured by character, social interventions, and tragedies.  North has reminded us of the repercussions of domestic violence, divorce, and in this case, the disturbing relationship between a serial killer and his son; the latter individualized by childhood trauma could very well have inherited his father’s psychotic traits. But North points out how individual choices can change the course of a person’s path.  Tom’s memories of his father’s drunkenness and indifference prompted him to aspire to a better version of himself. Francis Carter’s darker past attuned him to reverse the implications of what his father had done. He had morphed into becoming virtuous by kidnapping neglected children, to guide and nurture. But due to his apparent inheritance of his father’s deranged traits, Francis’ agitated temper and disagreement to lack of obedience, made him do things his father had done all those years ago.  The difference between Tom’s character and Francis’ sits on their individual choices. Even though both were altered by their dismal past, Tom did his best to be a father to his son, while Francis remained haunted by the horrors of his father’s perversion no matter how hard he tried to escape from it.


“The Whisper Man” did not delve much on the aspect of gore and police procedures as expected of a noir novel.  Despite its predictability, this book is a page-turner, a true class of its own. North gave us a moving narrative of a father’s love for his son despite his imperfections and limitations.  The heart of this novel is not the conclusion to the murders that happened in Featherbank, but how North came up with such compelling characters that are truly mesmerizing and unforgettable.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Alex North

Genre: Mystery & Thriller

Length: 368 pages

Publisher: Celadon Books (August 20, 2019)

ISBN-10: 1250317991

ISBN-13: 978-1250317995