Hello friends! I hope you all had a great Memorial Day & enjoyed your long weekend! I’m back today with another long round of book reviews since it’s been 2 months since I’ve done one of these. Today’s group is a mix of thrillers (because you know I can’t stay away from those) & some general fiction. I’m finding it harder & harder to be wowed by mysteries & thrillers lately, it seems like I can’t find one that truly surprises me. This group had some really great historical fiction though, like Lilac Girls & Daisy Jones. As always, I’m looking for recommendations so let me know what you’ve been reading!
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly (5/5 stars)
In her debut novel, Kelly tells the story of three women whose lives are brought together by WWII. It was inspiring to read a WWII novel written from the perspective of women, made even more so when I learned that the story was based on the true story of Caroline Ferriday. Herta is a young German doctor whose government position turns out to be at Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp. Kasia is a Polish teenager whose work with the underground resistance lands her, her mother, & her sister at Ravensbrück. Caroline is a NYC socialite who struggles to aid France during the war & the survivors of the Nazi medical experiments after the war. While I was aware of the atrocious medical experiments that occurred at Ravensbrück, it was so powerful to read about it from the perspective of one of the survivors, or “Rabbits.” It was also unique, but disturbing, to see the perspective of a German doctor who truly believed she was carrying out horrific experiments for the good of Germany. Overall, this was an emotional, sometimes painful, incredibly well-researched & written, unforgettable read.
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (5/5 stars)
First of all, I did not enjoy this Taylor Jenkins Reid novel as much as The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, but it was still a great read. This time around, Reid tackles the glory days of rock & roll – the 60’s & 70’s – in an interview transcript format. Daisy Jones is a girl growing up in L.A., sneaking into clubs, sleeping with rock stars, & dreaming of being a singer herself. Billy Dunne is the face of the The Six, a band on the edge of stardom, who is trying to keep himself together for his family. When a producer puts the two together, sparks fly & the band is catapulted to legendary fame. I didn’t expect to enjoy the format as much as I did. It provided different viewpoints & really showed how differently people see the same event. The characters were so well-developed, each with their own struggles & strengths, but relating to each other in complex ways. The drama, the glamour, & of course, the sex, drugs, & rock n’ roll made this book so hard to put down!
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing (3/5 stars)
Millicent & her husband have 2 children & live in the suburbs. She’s a successful realtor & he’s a tennis pro at the local country club. They’ve been married for 15 years & seem like a normal family, until you discover how they keep their marriage alive – they enjoy planning & getting away with murder. While this seems like a unique premise & there are some twists & turns, I found the ending to be predictable & the characters to be really unlikeable. The narrator husband, who was never named, was flat, while Millicent wasn’t developed enough. It’s also nothing new to know the identity of the killer going into a novel, this is something that been done a lot lately, but this one just didn’t have enough to really wow me.
Normal People by Sally Rooney (4/5 stars)
This one follows the intertwined lives of Connell & Marianne from high school through college. In high school, Connell was the popular one, while Marianne struggled to fit in. Once the two enter the same college, their roles reverse & Connell struggles to fit in while Marianne begins to shine. The two continue to move in & out of each other’s lives over the years, always drawn back to each other. I found this one incredibly difficult to get into for some reason. The story moved slowly as it was much more about character development than plot. Rooney did an amazing job describing the relationship between Connell & Marianne in a painfully realistic way. The miscommunications were so accurate, but were also incredibly frustrating as they never seemed to grow from them or out of them. By the end, I had gone from caring about the characters, to just being annoyed by them.
I Know You by Annabel Kantaria (3/5 stars)
Jake & Taylor Watson recently moved from California to his hometown of Croydon, England in order to start a new life. But Taylor is finding life in the London suburbs a little harder to adjust to than expected, so she joins a walking group & a book club in an attempt to make friends. While the characters were nicely developed, I didn’t find any of them to be particularly likeable. Taylor came off as desperate & Jake had already been unfaithful. As Taylor gets to know her new friends, things begin to seem a little off with each of them & strange things begin to happen. Little does one of the group know, but someone is using their avid social media presence against her. I enjoyed that Kantaria didn’t reveal who the internet stalker was after until the end, it make the book so much more suspenseful! She did a great job of evoking the paranoia that comes with being stalked & worrying about who you can truly trust. I was disappointed by the big twist at the end, as it felt a little contrived & not entirely original. Thank you to Crooked Lane Books and Netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review.
The Safest Lies by Megan Miranda (4/5 stars)
Kelsey was raised to see danger everywhere by her agoraphobic mother, who was kidnapped as a teenager & escaped pregnant with Kelsey. Kelsey has learned to keep to herself & not draw attention to her living situation. After Kelsey drives off a cliff & her rescue by a classmate makes headlines, Kelsey returns home to find her mother missing. Kelsey & Ryan must uncover her mother’s secrets to find her & the men that now seem to be hunting Kelsey. This one was pretty intense from the beginning & Miranda kept the suspense going, although the plot twist was predictable. I saw where it was going about halfway through, but the plot moved quickly enough & there was enough tension to keep me going through the end. This novel also asked a very interesting question – is fear learned or can it be inherited?
The Au Pair by Emma Rous (4/5 stars)
Within hours of the birth of Seraphine & her twin brother, Danny, their mother killed herself at their family estate & the au pair who’d been caring for their older brother vanished. After the death of their father, Seraphine uncovers an old photograph from that fateful day, of their parents & brother, with only one baby. Seraphine sets out to discover who the child in the photo is & what really happened to her mother by tracking down the au pair who had lived with her family that summer. Rous alternates between Seraphine’s present-day perspective & the au pair’s perspective from that summer to tell the story of the twins’ birth. The atmosphere of the house, set on cliffs above the sea, near a village whose residents believe in stories of changelings, contributes to the story’s gothic vibe & mysterious aura. The ending gets a little convoluted & can be hard to follow, but overall it’s a great thriller with a plot twist that I didn’t see coming.
The Invited by Jennifer McMahon (5/5 stars)
Wanting to start a simpler life, Helen & Nate abandon their suburban lives to build their dream home on a plot of land in the woods of Vermont. Shortly after beginning construction, the couple learns the history of the original landowner – Hattie Breckenridge, who was hung on the land as witch. As Helen learns more about Hattie & her descendants, she begins to wonder if the rumors of Hattie’s haunting are really just rumors. Helen ends up befriending a local girl, Olive, whose mother disappeared searching for Hattie’s treasure. Helen begins looking into Hattie’s descendants, tying herself into Olive’s story. This story is a little bit history, a little bit modern-day ghost story, & a little bit mystery. I loved the gothic atmosphere that McMahon created & the suspense that was creepy, but not overly scary. She seamlessly blends Hattie’s story with the present storyline. The characters are believable & likable – you root for them to figure out how to help Hattie’s spirit find peace. McMahon’s ability to write chilling, but not overly cliché, stories is quickly making her a favorite author. Thank you to Doubleday Books and Netgalley for the arc in exchange for an honest review.