Book Review: The Other Mrs.

She tried to run, but she can’t escape the other Mrs.

Sadie and Will Foust have only just moved their family from bustling Chicago to small-town Maine when their neighbor Morgan Baines is found dead in her home. The murder rocks their tiny coastal island, but no one is more shaken than Sadie.

But it’s not just Morgan’s death that has Sadie on edge. And as the eyes of suspicion turn toward the new family in town, Sadie is drawn deeper into the mystery of what really happened that dark and deadly night. But Sadie must be careful, for the more she discovers about Mrs. Baines, the more she begins to realize just how much she has to lose if the truth ever comes to light.

Kubica has created a well-researched narrative that explores multiple layers of mental illness which is quite a common trope in most thriller novels.  The fate of the characters in this nerve-wracking fictional work hangs on a balance and to be dealt with yet again the powerful tool of the unreliable narrator is enough to stay right till the end regardless of its almost predictable plot.

The most important theme of the novel concerns stigma and discrimination against mental illness.  People with mental illness are easily dismissed either as targets for public stigma and/or the stigma against the self.  The lesson to be learned from this work of fiction constitutes the 3A’s: awareness, acknowledgment, and action. Ignorance is not an excuse and apathy could dismiss any fundamental hopes of building confidence and healthy relationships and conditions. There is nothing more admirable than thrillers morphing into social novels that catalyze consciousness and elicit fury against injustices from people and society.  

What this novel presents, is real people dealing with real, oppressive problems. Kubica managed to represent characters battling against physical and mental health disorders and how self-centered, coercive, and manipulative people have taken advantage of their situation.  Bullying and abuse were also portrayed in this book and these socio-psychological problems are lethal seeds that grow into destructive ammunition later on in life.

Multiple timelines and multiple narrators, each with different perspectives and persuasions are the tools by which the author made use of to manipulate the readers.  The complexity of each of the characters–flawed and immanently human, yet vile and greedy–forms many archetypes common in fiction: “the villain”, “the victim”, “the rebel” and “the trickster”. But the element of surprise, judging by this book alone, is Kubica’s poison that kills whatever disappointment one reader may have of the plot’s predictability.  One might have misjudged the book early on but surprise, surprise, the narrative is not what you think it is. Just when you thought you already know the path the book is heading toward, the remarkable twist hits you right in the face. There seem to be no inhibitions on Kubica’s creative genius of a mind and to think that this novel is another suspenseful yet formulaic domestic thriller, will be in for a treat.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Mary Kubica

Genre: Thriller / Mystery

Length: 368 pages

Publisher: Park Row; Original edition (February 18, 2020)

ISBN-10: 0778369110

ISBN-13: 978-0778369110

Book Review: The Dutch House

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril’s son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they’re together. Throughout their lives, they return to the well-worn story of what they’ve lost with humor and rage. But when at last they’re forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.


“The Dutch House” written by the award-winning author, Ann Patchett, tells the story about two siblings Maeve and Danny Conroy as they recount their lives living in the lavish Dutch House that their father purchased until they were banished from it by their own stepmother, Andrea Smith, whom the siblings suspected married their father only to have the Dutch House for herself.  

Written from Danny’s point of view, Patchett explores how Danny grew up not yearning for the love of his own mother, Elna Conroy, only acknowledging the fact that she left them when they were very young for reasons he could not comprehend.  Unlike Danny, Maeve’s painful longing their mother burdened her but somehow pushed her to become over-protective of her brother, acting more like a mother to him to which Danny was grateful for even though the path his sister wanted for him was not what he truly desired.  Agreeing to Maeve was Danny’s way of showing his appreciation for her tireless attention and love.  

But this is more a comparative narrative between two mothers: Danny and Maeve’s biological mother who left them without saying goodbye, and their stepmother who stripped them of their rights to their own house.  Who is to say which one is worse than the other when both women clearly left them to fend for themselves, to grow up without the guidance of a mother to tend to their needs, and for allowing themselves to feel unworthy of a mother’s love? I marvel at how Patchett presented the Dutch House as an object of desire for Andrea, but an object of disdain for Elna Conroy. Such desire and disdain ultimately ushered in the undoing of both Maeve’s and Danny’s lives.

Brilliant, touching and beautifully written, “The Dutch House” delivers an exceptional coming-of-age narrative of how two siblings longed for the opulent and majestic house that they have lived in as children plastered by the irony of its emptiness and bad memories.  I love how Patchett made Maeve and Danny visit the Dutch House, recounting their lives, the what-ifs, their hatred for their stepmother, and the countless ways they would have wanted to approach her, demanding their house back, while sitting in the car, eyeing the house. It is a moving tale of survival, sibling love, forgiveness, and what it truly means to move forward, leaving the past behind.  Just like any other piece of literary fiction, “The Dutch House” provides an insight into why people behave and act a certain way unknowingly setting off events that affect other people’s lives. How those whose lives were altered and broken were left with only hatred to hold on to and revenge to look forward to. But this novel somehow eased that burden. Patchett’s magnificent novel turns a somewhat ode to classic fairy tales about evil stepmothers and two siblings who have escaped a house made out of gingerbread from a wicked cannibalistic witch, into a work of fiction that proves things will turn out for the better in the end.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Ann Patchett

Genre: Literary Fiction / Historical Fiction

Length: 352 pages

Publisher: Berkley; Harper; 1st edition (September 24, 2019)

ISBN-10: 0062963678

ISBN-13: 978-0062963673

Book Review: The Glittering Hour

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.


“The Glittering Hour” by Iona Grey is a lush portrayal of the glamorous yet outrageous life of the “Bright Young Things” of the 1920s.  Selina Lennox, along with her friends Flick and Theo, were the son and daughters of the high society, aristocrats, and middle-class people: a generation too young to be sent into the battle of the Great War.  Hounded by the paparazzi who were every inch hungry to have a glimpse into the intriguing lives and imminent dissolution of these rebellious, promiscuous and carefree boys and girls, chased around London while notoriously reveling in extravagant parties and theatrics, enjoying treasure hunting in fast cars, and experimenting with drugs. 

Selina’s carefree disposition, embroidered with a carpe diem attitude, had been her family’s cause of concern and disapproval. Adored and favored by her brother Howard from when she was little, Selina’s high spirits were a result of her brother’s favor that she should enjoy life’s pleasures and live for the moment.  After Howard’s death, Selina cocooned her grief by throwing herself into lavish parties with her friends. But when her path unexpectedly crossed with Lawrence Weston, an impoverished artist who knew better than to mingle with someone of Selina’s stature, their lives were suddenly swept from a forbidden love affair to a tragedy that will make them choose between love and practicality.

This novel brought me to tears. Grey’s circuitous and poetic writing is impeccable as the way she has framed a time once loved and lost then brought back to life for her readers to acknowledge and understand. Selina’s narrative reminds me once again why historical novels have always captivated me: to fathom the extremes of human behavior set against the political, social, and cultural circumstances and struggles of a particular era. 

Enthralling, heartbreaking, and hauntingly beautiful, “The Glittering Hour” is a celebration of a generation catapulted into an ironic twist of the remnants of the Great War and the boisterous parade of the plummeting wealth of the once rich and powerful scarred by death and financial duties. A moving tale of love and sacrifice and of life and of death, Grey’s masterpiece of a novel disarms the readers of prejudices, instead ignites a discussion on ethical dilemmas.  The novel’s heartfelt finale proves that love will always find its way in the most glittering hour of our lives.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Iona Grey

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 480 pages

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (December 10, 2019)

ISBN-10: 1250066794

ISBN-13: 978-1250066794

Book Review: This Is Not How It Ends


When Charlotte and Philip meet, the pair form a deep and instant connection. Soon they’re settled in the Florida Keys with plans to marry. But just as they should be getting closer, Charlotte feels Philip slipping away.

Second-guessing their love is something Charlotte never imagined, but with Philip’s excessive absences, she finds herself yearning for more. When she meets Ben, she ignores the pull, but the supportive single dad is there for her in ways she never knew she desired. Soon Charlotte finds herself torn between the love she thought she wanted and the one she knows she needs.

As a hurricane passes through Islamorada, stunning revelations challenge Charlotte’s loyalties and upend her life. Forced to reexamine the choices she’s made, and has yet to make, Charlotte embarks on an emotional journey of friendship, love, and sacrifice—knowing that forgiveness is a gift, and the best-laid plans can change in a heartbeat.


“This is Not How it Ends” by Rochelle B. Weinstein is a character-driven narrative on finding love while coping with grief and loss. The story centers on Charlotte who found love through some romantic twist of fate but finds tragedy almost always coinciding; tricking her into being hopeful only for that hope to be shattered once again. This is a story about culpability, forgiveness, and acceptance of how fate plays a neat trick on people’s lives.  

Told from the first-person point of view, executed with dual timelines, Weinstein’s writing style is characterized by her use of descriptive imagery, wordy prose, and emotional dialogues.  I fell in love with how Weinstein had beautifully described every emotion, every behavior, and perspective of her characters. One could feel the wisdom emanating from every word as well as the pain and irony from every discourse. It is hard not to love a novel written magically with nothing but palpable words to hold on to.

A somewhat predictable slow burn romance story but complemented with themes on alternative medicine, cancer, LGBT, and death, Weinstein’s novel not only narrates but informs and enlightens. I was easily drawn to this serendipitous-slash-forbidden type of love story despite my suspicions on how the story will likely end. While the plot screams the usual love triangle trope, what impelled me were the inner struggles brought about by the guilt of betraying someone you love.  How choices are restricted because of personal and external pressures acting on socially acceptable values and behaviors. Lessons on love and life proliferate this novel that while the story may be draggy at times, it doesn’t deviate from what compels readers to perpetually enjoy romance novels: believing in love amidst the blackest remnants of the past.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Author: Rochelle B. Weinstein

Genre: Romance Fiction / Friendship Fiction

Length: 351 pages

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (January 1, 2020)

ISBN-10: 1542007674

ISBN-13: 978-1542007672

Book Review: Where the Crawdads Sing


For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.


This magnificent debut novel has captured the heart and soul of its readers while maintaining its rank as one of the bestselling novels of 2018. Written by Delia Owens, an American author, and zoologist,  “Where the Crawdads Sing” is a written declaration of how one woman’s’ desire for love and affection, from what appears a lifetime of solitude, brings about a tale of survival amidst prejudice and discrimination.

This is the story of Kya, abandoned by her parents and siblings at such a tender age with nothing but the marsh left to teach her how to survive and live her growing years.  Kya’s narrative is a picturesque tale of a lone white woman who had survived years living alone in a shack in the North Carolina marsh, her existence educated and nurtured by the natural world.  As Kya learns to deal with her loneliness, she finds herself longing to be with someone who would fill the gaps left by her own family. Just as mother nature offered her bosom to Kya, she, in turn, allowed herself to be drawn to two men enamored of her bewildering beauty.  Hopeful for the first time in years, Kya’s grip on normalcy ushered in another challenge–one that she was unable to face: a murder case charging her as the only viable suspect.

What made this novel utterly compelling is the way Owens applied her profession and knowledge of animals’ fundamental biological principles to human interaction. The symbiosis that marveled between humans and animals is remarkably described and portrayed. Mutualism and the adaptive collaboration between Kya and nature are the heart and soul of this novel.  

Owens’s debut novel is a work of art; a tour-de-force similar to the rave and success accomplished by “How to Kill a Mockingbird”.  This book tackled a nuance of themes ranging from prejudice, racism, abandonment, survival to love, murder trial, and forgiveness. The lush imagery and lyrical prose that Owens was able to craft interlaced with such a heartbreaking but inspiring plot are what impelled the readers to this book.  I don’t think there is anything left to say about this novel that has not yet been published. “Where the Crawdads Sing” combines imagery, poetry, and suspense interwoven into the fabric of social reality. Armed with multitudes of learning moments and valuable experiences, Kya’s narrative begs us to understand how human behavior acts independently of the values held by social hierarchies and cultures. A novel that is worth the wait and will be among the string of timeless classics: a wondrous tale, sad but beautiful; compelling yet insightful. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Author: Delia Owens

Genre: Literary Fiction / Coming of Age Fiction

Length: 384 pages

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons; Later Printing edition (August 14, 2018)

ISBN-10: 0735219095

ISBN-13: 978-0735219090

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

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. 

1. AMERICAN DIRT

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.

2. SUCH A FUN AGE

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.

3. THE GLITTERING HOUR

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.

4. LONG BRIGHT RIVER

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.

5. THE HERD

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.

6. THE SUN DOWN MOTEL

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.

7. THE GLASS HOTEL

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.

8. MY DARK VANESSA

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.

9. THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

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.

10. A SONG BELOW WATER

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.

SPOILER WARNING!!!

(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.

Themes
  • 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