BOOK REVIEW: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Title: Suspicious Minds

Author: Gwenda Bond

Book Length: 304 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 24, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be further from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, codenamed MKUltra. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tightlipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory—and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner—lurks a conspiracy greater than she could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists—a young girl with unexplainable, superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war—one where the human mind is the battlefield.

My Review: I have loved the show Stranger Things since it premiered. I am waiting eagerly for the next season to drop, which by all accounts might not be for a while. When I was in Nashville for a girls weekend, I visited a book shop of course, because well, I am addicted to books. As I was perusing the shelves, I saw Suspicious Minds and was instantly intrigued. I hadn’t known there was a book — actually there are several!

Suspicious Minds is a prequel to the events of Stranger Things. Even though this book is set in the world of the Netflix show, there is a whole new cast of characters (99% of whom we have never met before) and so if you have never seen the show (stop reading this blog and go watch it now!), you will still be able to read the book and enjoy it. The three characters from the show are Dr. Martin Brenner, the head of the highly classified “research” Project at the Hawkins laboratory in Indiana, Terry Ives, the mother of Eleven, and Eight (as a child in the book), one of the test subjects who exhibit special powers. In Eight’s case it is the ability to make people see illusions/what she wants them to see.

It’s 1969 (14 years before Season 1 of Stranger Things) and Terry Ives, a college student and waitress, takes her roommate’s place at a government sanctioned (paid) test program. Terry needs the money — and she is more than a little intrigued. Terry is currently involved in a relationship with another college student named Andrew, who is luckily not eligible for the draft as he falls under the college exception. I liked how Gwenda Bond included the history and politics of the era (namely the Vietnam war), so this book not only takes place at the lab, but also out in the larger world, with all the angst, protests and sentiments of that time in US history.

While the show eludes to the testing that Terry Ives had undergone at the hands of sinister Dr. Martin Brenner, the book really goes into the details of what happened to her, and really showed that the indifference to human life that Brenner exhibited in Stranger Things is a character trait he has been exhibiting for some time. We never learn why Brenner is performing these tests or for what purpose though, so this was a little disappointing.

The show also never mentioned that Terry and Kali (Eight, who we meet briefly in Season 2 of Stranger Things) knew each other or had such a prolonged interaction. However, in the book, the relationship between Terry and Kali is very important to the plot. There was also never any mention of the other test subjects in the show and I liked learning about them in the book.

While I definitely liked this book, I came away from it with more questions than answers. Yes, now we know the origin story of Eleven and how she came to be in the clutches of Brenner. We know the backstory of Terry Ives. However, the book ends with the birth of Eleven, but we don’t really meet Eleven in the Netflix show until she is basically a teenager, and in later seasons, they show her as a young child (maybe around 8 years old?). What happened from her birth until then? What happened to the other test subjects?

We learn in the book that Alice (one of the test subjects) when given LSD and electroshock therapy, could see into the Upside Down (and into the future), and that Brenner becomes aware that such a place exists. However, we never learn whether this was the catalyst for what happened with Eleven, or whether it was merely a coincidence. In other words, what did Brenner actively do with this information?

I guess if you read this book without watching the show first, these same questions may not pop up and your experience of the book might be different. It might just add to the mystery of the story, rather than prompting more questions.

I know there are other Stanger Things books out there, but I don’t think they are a sequel to Suspicious Minds. I want to know what happens between 1970 and the start of the show! We need another book! Universe, please work on this!

At the moment, this book has only a 3.61 rating on Goodreads, which I feel is not a true reflection of my experience. I tried to find other reviews on WordPress, but found only one (and great) review from G does Films.

While I think that anyone can read and enjoy this book, I think that it definitely helps if you are already a fan of the show.

BOOK REVIEW: Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Title: Into the Water

Author: Paula Hawkins

Book Length: 386 pages

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: November 14, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 8, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.

My Review:

Beckford is not a suicide spot. Beckford is a place to get rid of troublesome women.”

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, page 83

I really enjoyed The Girl on the Train by the same author (you can see my review here), so I thought that I’d like this one just as much. I was rather disappointed. While there was certainly mystery and thriller aspects, there was just too many POVs.

In order of first appearance:

Jules: The sister of Nel Abbott, the woman who was killed and found dead of drowning in the river under suspicious circumstances. We also see the storyline of Jules when she is a teenager. Something horrible happens to her for which she blames Nel. At the time of Nel’s death, they haven’t spoken in years.

Josh: The brother of the teenage girl, Katie, who committed suicide, by drowning herself in the river. Josh and Lena share a horrible secret, one which isn’t revealed until later in the book.

Nickie: the town “weirdo” who claims that she can hear the dead speaking to her. Nickie is being told by her dead sister, Jeanie (who used to be a police officer) that something isn’t right with Patrick Townsend.

Lena: The daughter of Nel Abbott. She was best friends with Katie and is completely devastated to have lost both her mother and best friend in short order. Lena is convinced that her mother killed herself, but we don’t find out until later why she is so convinced of this fact. Lena hates Jules because even though Nel called and called over the years, Jules never once returned the call.

Mark: The high school teacher of Lena and Katie. There is a twist to the story involving this character later on in the book.

Louise: The mother of Katie and Josh. Is she a suspect or just a grieving mother?

Erin: a police officer assigned to the case of the death of Nel Abbott.

Patrick: A former police officer and father to Sean. His wife was also found in the river back when his son was a young child. I hated Patrick from the start. He is a real a**hole and that is putting it mildly. I suspected that he killed Nel and his wife from the beginning of the book. Trigger warning here for animal abuse.

Helen: School teacher and wife of Sean. I didn’t really like Helen. There was something weird going on between her and Patrick, almost like a perverted father-daughter relationship. Sean had been unfaithful to Helen and they were having a rough time. They used to live together in the cottage on the main property, but Helen moved into the main house with Patrick when she learned of the infidelity.

Sean: a police officer assigned to work the Nel Abbott case with Erin. He is the son of Patrick and the husband of Helen. We don’t know until later the identity of the woman he was having an affair with, but it changes everything.

In my opinion, having 10 POVs is way too much! Some of the chapters were written in the third person, some in the first person. It took me a while to get into the story because of it.

In the middle of reading the book, my daughter was sent to the hospital for severe bronchitis and I had to stay overnight with her for more than a week. I tried to read this book while at the hospital, but honestly, I was just in the wrong headspace for something so dense and difficult. I had to put it down and read something lighter.

It’s not that it’s a bad book, but I think that it could have been better. I knew who the killer was from the very beginning, so it wasn’t really a mystery to me–it was more about reading to see how the police figured it out.

As of writing this review, this book has a rating of 3.59 on Goodreads with more than 350,000 ratings. My 3 rating is therefore not far from the average opinion. If you are looking for the next best read to start 2023 off right, I might bump this book a little further down the list.

BOOK REVIEW: Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Title: Rosemary’s Baby

Author: Ira Levin

Audiobook Length: 6 hours and 9 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Thriller, Paranormal

Read Start Date: November 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 28, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Suppose you were an up-to-date young wife who moved into an old and elegant New York apartment house with a rather strange past.

Suppose that only after you became pregnant did you begin to suspect the building harbored a diabolically evil group of devil worshippers who had mastered the arts of black magic and witchcraft.

Suppose that this satanic conspiracy set out to claim not only your husband but your baby.

Well, that’s what happened to Rosemary… Or did it…?

My Review: I read this book 10 years ago and saw it for rent as an audiobook at the library and figured why not. This book is one of those classics that never seems to get old (except that some of the language used in the book, while it may have been normal in the 1960’s when it was written, did not age well.) Mia Farrow is the narrator of the audiobook which is a nice touch (she played Rosemary in the movie in 1968).

Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse jump at the opportunity to move into a recently empty apartment at the Branford–an elegant apartment building. The apartment is just fantastic, and a perfect size for the eventual family the couple wants to have. A stay-at-home-wife, Rosemary slowly adjusts to life at the building, befriending a woman of a similar age in the laundry room. Terry, a now sober drug addict pulled off the streets by the Castevets (Rosemary’s neighbors), wears a strange bauble around her neck containing a foul smelling “tannis root”, given to her by the Castevets for “luck”.

When Terry suddenly plummets to her death, things at the Branford start to take a terrifying turn. From odd chanting and flute playing coming from the Castevets apartment, to the horrible dream Rosemary had of being raped by a demon with yellow eyes, things at the Branford aren’t looking rosy as they once had. Except Guy all of a sudden starts getting bigger and better acting roles, and Rosemary finds out she’s pregnant. Was her dream really just a dream?

The book is great if you remember that it is a period piece written and taking place in the 1960’s. There are lots of elements of the story which would not work today in 2022…and it is these elements which add the tension to the story. In 2022, Rosemary would be able to search the internet, she would likely have a job, have more access to friends with whom to speak about her constant abdominal pains while pregnant. Her OBGYN’s instructions “not to read books or talk to friends–because every pregnancy is different” would probably go over as well as a cockroach in a bowl of cherries.

Rosemary seemed very isolated in the story. Her one friend, Hutch, mysteriously fell into a coma after telling Rosemary of the sordid history of the Branford. I don’t think this isolation would have been the same had the story taken place in the present day.

But somehow that is part of the appeal and charm of Rosemary’s Baby, and other books from decades ago. You don’t need the big thrills or “gotcha” moments like today’s horror (okay, maybe this is mostly in movies). The horror in this book is subtle, it creeps up on you like lions hiding in the tall grass. It builds and builds, and finally climaxes in an ending that is expected, yet somehow not at the same time.

I’m glad I read this again and I recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it yet.

BOOK REVIEW: Wraith by Mark Wheaton

Title: Wraith

Author: Mark Wheaton

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 49 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Thriller, Gothic, Mystery

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 3, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: After witnessing the death of her mother at a young age, Cecily LeClercq grows up hiding herself away in the remote Carolina wetlands. When a stranger arrives from Paris saying a distant, elderly relative is desperate to see her before she dies, Cecily travels to an old chateau deep in the French woods. There she learns of an ancient curse that has consumed generations of her ancestors, personified by a vicious, ghostly wraith who emerges from the forest when the death of a LeClercq is near…

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The book opens with the death of Cecily’s mother under strange circumstances. Although everyone has always tried to tell Cecily that her mother drowned in the severely bad hurricane, Cecily cannot escape the memory of the ghostly figure a.k.a the wraith, whom Cecily believes was responsible.

When we next see Cecily, she is an adult and works as a botanist (?) in Charleston, South Carolina. A man from France (Rene) approaches her and informs her that the great-grandmother Cecily had never known about, wants to see her urgently. By the time they reach France, however, she is already dead, and seemingly she has taken the information she wanted to tell Cecily with her to her grave.

Cecily stays on in France for a little while longer, learning about the alleged LeClercq curse i.e., that when the wraith comes for you, you have 2 options: kill yourself or the wraith will take the lives of those around you instead. Now that Cecily has seen the wraith, can she unravel the curse before the wraith takes vengeance on Cecily and those she cares about?

While I generally liked the story, I found it to be a little slow going at times, leading to a conclusion that was somewhat unsatisfactory. Even though billed as “horror”, I didn’t find it scary. I didn’t really feel any edge of my seat tension either, to be honest. I thought it was more of a mystery / thriller with a ticking clock (i.e., Cecily only had a certain amount of time to solve the mystery before the wraith got her).

That being said, the story line is interesting and the book was well written. Coming in at a rating of 3.57 on Goodreads at the time of this review seems about right. Some people are more enthusiastic than others and it seems to be split down the middle in terms of those who liked it and those who didn’t.

SPOILER ALERT: By the end of the book we find out that a LeClercq hundreds of years ago was a giant monster who basically stole land and killed a bunch of people. The wraith is the tormented spirit of one of those murdered people. Since the LeClercqs have benefited from this theft and murder, the wraith comes to ruin the lives of the descendants and/or kill them. Cecily ends up solving the mystery and puts everything to rights — but at the end of the book, the wraith is still following her around.

Why was the spirit not satisfied? This was just annoying to say the least. I think that I would have given the book 4 stars had it not been for the ending. Because honestly, if the curse wasn’t lifted by solving the mystery and putting things right — then what was the point of the book?

Reviews Published
Professional Reader
10 Book Reviews

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Title: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Book Length: 316 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: November 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 13, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

My Review: The book tells the story from 3 POVs:

Rachel is having a hard time of it. Spiraling downward, she has lost her husband, her job, and many times her dignity (she often gets blackout drunk and does things she regrets in the morning). Fooling her roommate into believing she still has a job, Rachel takes the train each morning into London, drink in hand. Every morning she passes by the house that used to be hers — the one that her husband now lives in with his new wife and baby girl. A few doors down lives another couple, whom Rachel watches through the train window, creating a perfect life for them in her mind.

One day, this perfect image is shattered when sees the wife cheating on the husband with another man. Shorty thereafter, the wife goes missing and is feared dead. What happened to her? Was it the man Rachel saw her with? Did the husband find out and kill her in a jealous rage? Rachel was there that night–the night that Megan went missing–but she was drunk and doesn’t remember a thing.

Rachel becomes obsessed with trying to solve the mystery, as she is convinced she knows more than she remembers.

Megan: The story of Megan is told in the past and leads up to the circumstances surrounding why she goes missing. Something horrific happens in her past (I won’t spoil it), but it left me bereft for days afterward.

Lastly, the story of Anne, Rachel’s ex’s new wife. Anne views Rachel much like everyone else — a drunk, a nuisance, crazy. Rachel is constantly leaving messages for Tom (the husband) and Anne is becoming fed up. I wasn’t too crazy about Anne’s POV and it didn’t add that much to the story until the ending when it all came together.

Down the Rabbit Hole sums it up best: “The characters in this book were all so frustratingly imperfect. Each time I wish they would make some good decisions, but they wouldn’t. I think all in all that speaks to the author’s prowess at creating these characters that you can’t help but root for, or at least wish the best, and then have that all crumbling down around you all the time. It truly made for a frustrating yet impressive experience of impending dread.”

I love Paula Hawkins’s writing. Both its imagery and the mystery aspect. The ending had a big twist that I did not see coming and it tied the whole story into a neat little bow. Although Rachel’s actions are cringe worthy sometimes, she is a sympathetic character. She has been done wrong — and by the end it is clear why she is (justifiably) a mess.

I would definitely recommend this book.

As a last point, I would like to share a couple of quotes that I took note of:

My heart breaks for Rachel here in this moment.

I liked my job, but I didn’t have a glittering career, and even if I had, let’s be honest: women are still only really valued for two things — their looks and their role as mothers. I’m not beautiful, and I can’t have kids, so what does that make me? Worthless.

The Girl on the Train page 85

The below quote as a really awesome element of foreshadowing in it, that you don’t pick up until much later in the book. It’s just really fantastic, actually, when I think about it.

Blackouts happen, and it isn’t just a matter of being a bit hazy about getting home from the club or forgetting what it was that was so funny when you were chatting in the pub. It’s different. Total black; hours lost, never to be retrieved.

Tom bought me a book about it. Not very romantic, but he was tired of listening to me tell him how sorry I was in the morning when I didn’t even know what I was sorry for. I think he wanted me to see the damage I was doing, the kind of things I might be capable of. It was written by a doctor, but I’ve no idea whether it was accurate: the author claimed that blacking out wasn’t simply a matter of forgetting what had happened, but having no memories to forget in the first place. His theory was that you get into a state where your brain no longer makes short-term memories. And while you’re there, in deepest black, you don’t behave as you usually would, because you’re simply reacting to the very last thing that you think happened, because — since you aren’t making memories — you might not actually know what the last thing that happened really was.”

The Girl on the Train page 74

BOOK REVIEW: The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Title: The Woman in the Window

Author: A.J. Finn

Book Length: 427 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Crime

Read Start Date: October 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: November 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Anna Fox lives alone, a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother and their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

My Review: Anna Fox, a child psychologist, is bound to her home after a traumatic event left her with agoraphobia. We don’t find out what this traumatic event is until nearly the end of the book, so I won’t spoil it here. To fill her days, Anna drinks, mixing the alcohol with prescription medication, and watches her neighbors. For the first 115 pages of the book we learn about Anna — her (bad) habits, mostly. How she likes to watch old movies, play on-line chess, and dispense advice to other agoraphobes in an online chatroom. She has a cat, named Punch, and is separated from her husband and daughter. Anna speaks to them on the phone a few times, but hasn’t seen either of them for what seems like a long time.

Although I never felt like this was overkill per se, I feel basically nothing happened in these 115 pages and it probably could have been shortened. We get a lot of conversations between her and the online people, a lot of quotes from her black and white movies. Unnecessary fillers perhaps?

Anyway, at some point the neighbor, Ethan Russel, and then shortly thereafter, Jane Russel (Ethan’s mother), comes over and they have a night of fun. Drinking wine, playing chess, just chatting. Anna is concerned because Alistair Russel can be violent sometimes, and controlling — or so says Jane. Anna has never met him before, so all she has is Jane’s word for it. Other than this unexpected visit, everything seems a bit mundane, I guess maybe that is how it feels for Anna too.

Finally, on page 115, the thrills begin. Anna hears a scream coming from the Russel’s house. Anna immediately calls Ethan, who tearfully tells Anna that “he just lost his temper.” Anna is convinced that Alistair hurt Jane.

The next evening, Anna is drinking and watching TV as usual, when she turns her attention to the Russel house. While Anna is listening to the TV in the background (the quotes from the movie are interspersed with the narrative, which honestly was distracting), Anna sees Jane shouting at someone, and then:

Once more Jane enters the frame–but walking slowly, strangely. Staggering. A dark patch of crimson has stained the top of her blouse; even as I watch, it spreads to her stomach. Her hands scrabble at her chest. Something slender and silver has lodged there, like a hilt.”

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, page 144

Anna phones the police and the gaslighting begins. Anna was so drunk when she made the police call, she was slurring her words. Almost unintelligibly. No one believes that she saw someone get murdered, mainly because the woman she thought was Jane Russell, was in fact, not. She was someone using Jane’s name. Who was this woman? Does she even exist? Or could mixing the pills and alcohol have given her a hallucination?

Overall, I liked the story. I found it intense at times and I did not see the ending coming. I found myself getting annoyed that no one believed Anna — I found her to be a very sympathetic character and though I couldn’t relate to her completely (as I’m not in her circumstances), I could relate to the gaslighting, the not being taken seriously. I think most women can.

It was easy to read and I got through the 400+ pages in about a week (around 50 pages per day). I only gave it four stars, however, because at times it dragged on. I felt there were too many movies quotes, too many days that were the same; there was a lot of repetition. Despite that, if you haven’t read it already (it’s been out since 2018) I would recommend it.

SIDE NOTE: I was wondering why this book wasn’t listed as “women’s fiction”, but then I just read on Goodreads that the author is actually a man! That answers that! I had just assumed that the author was a women. I’m not sure why I thought that honestly…I guess because the main character is a woman? It doesn’t change my opinion of the book at all, I just found it interesting and though I’d share.

BOOK REVIEW: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Title: My Sister, The Serial Killer

Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite

Book Length: 223 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Contemporary

Read Start Date: October 19, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 22, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…

My Sister, the Serial Killer is a blackly comic novel about how blood is thicker – and more difficult to get out of the carpet – than water…

My Review: As of writing this review, this book has a 3.7 rating on Goodreads, which I find to be a little unfair. I really liked this book for several reasons. First, I found it to be an interesting premise. Korede and Ayoola are sisters who grew up with an abusive father, that is, until he died. I never figured out whether the father just up and had a heart attack, or if the sisters had something to do with it. I would have liked to see more clarity about this topic.

Secondly, I liked that this book was easy to read. I finished it in only 3 days.

The book starts with a murder — Ayoola’s third murder to be precise. The man she killed had been her boyfriend, and she claims he attacked her. But then, why was the knife (their father’s knife) protruding from his back? Why has Ayoola done this before? Could it really be that ALL the times she has killed was always done in self defense, or could she be, as Korede thinks, a serial killer?

In darkly comedic fashion, we are with the sisters as they clean the scene, wrap the body, and carry him down in the elevator to Korede’s car. They dump him unceremoniously into the river and go on with their daily lives. Ayoola is immediately ready to get back to normal, and Korede has to reel in Ayoola’s Instagram posts which might seem in poor taste to some, and to others suspicious. Neither sister seems emotionally stable, some might even call them sociopaths.

This book is as much about Ayoola being a serial killer as it is about the complicated relationship between the sisters. Korede is extremely jealous of Ayoola because of her beauty and success with men, due to a sense of familial obligation instilled in her by their mother, continues to cover up Ayoola’s crimes. Korede, though the elder sibling, has always lived in Ayoola’s shadow. “I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realized that Ayoola was beautiful and I was…not. But what I do know is that I was aware of my own inadequacies long before.” Korede is self-deprecating and very hard on herself — which I don’t feel is warranted. She is smart and a hard worker, having been recent promoted to head nurse at the hospital where she works. Yes, she might not be as alluringly seductive as her sister, but well, her sister clearly has some fatal flaws.

When Ayoola catches the attention of Tade, a doctor whom Korede is in love with, it is unclear for most of the book what Korede will do. Will she tell on Ayoola? Will she allow things to progress and see what happens? What will come first, family or what is morally right? I won’t spoil the ending, but I think that it is true to Korede and I wasn’t surprised.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

Title: The Lost Apothecary

Author: Sarah Penner

Book Length: 316 pages

Rating:  3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Contemporary, Crime

Read Start Date: September 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 18, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads:  A female apothecary secretly dispenses poisons to liberate women from the men who have wronged them – setting three lives across centuries on a dangerous collision course.

Rule #1: The poison must never be used to harm another woman.
Rule #2: The names of the murderer and her victim must be recorded in the apothecary’s register.

One cold February evening in 1791, at the back of a dark London alley in a hidden apothecary shop, Nella awaits her newest customer. Once a respected healer, Nella now uses her knowledge for a darker purpose – selling well-disguised poisons to desperate women who would kill to be free of the men in their lives. But when her new patron turns out to be a precocious twelve-year-old named Eliza Fanning, an unexpected friendship sets in motion a string of events that jeopardizes Nella’s world and threatens to expose the many women whose names are written in her register.

In present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, reeling from the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. When she finds an old apothecary vial near the river Thames, she can’t resist investigating, only to realize she’s found a link to the unsolved “apothecary murders” that haunted London over two centuries ago. As she deepens her search, Caroline’s life collides with Nella’s and Eliza’s in a stunning twist of fate – and not everyone will survive.

My Review: As of writing this post, this book has a 3.76 rating on Goodreads, which isn’t stellar for a mainstream, popular book. 37% gave the book 4 stars, while 27% gave the book 3 stars. I read this book about a year ago as an audiobook, and I remember liking it more than I did when I read it in paperback. I had given it 4 star last year, but after rereading the book, I’m switching to 3 stars. Maybe thinking it was better was due to my delirium of being a new mom and never sleeping. Anyway, I liked the story of Eliza and Nella more than Caroline. In fact, Caroline’s story really annoyed me to the point where I was rolling my eyes frequently.

I think the issue is that I just didn’t like Caroline as a character. I didn’t relate to her one bit. Caroline began the application process to attend graduate school at the University of Cambridge, as was her dream. Her then boyfriend, James, had been “adamantly against the idea” because he had plans to propose to her. The second he did “Cambridge could have fallen of the map, for all I cared–Cambridge and advanced degrees and every novel ever written by Charles Dickens. From the moment I wrapped my arms around James’ neck at the end of that pier and whispered yes, my identity as an aspiring historian rusted away, replaced with my identity as his soon-to-be-wife.” Then she takes a stable, secure job at her parent’s farm, while James steadily rises the corporate accounting ladder.

Because I guess America doesn’t offer masters degrees in history?

Regardless, even if the University she wanted to attend was in Australia, I’m still wondering, why the hell couldn’t she have gone and done her masters and still been a wife? Especially since kids were far off in the distance. “Though I’d wanted kids early in our marriage, James didn’t want to deal with the stress of long hours and a young family. And so just as he had climbed the corporate ladder every day for a decade, so too did I put that little pink pill on the tip of my tongue and think to myself, Someday.” I mean, 10 years is a long time to wait for “someday”. So Caroline puts her academic, career, AND family dreams on hold for a decade? Ummm, no thank you. There would have definitely been a Me shaped hole in the wall long before it got to the 10 year mark.

Also, from everything the book tells us of James, he doesn’t seem like he would be spending all that much time with the kids anyway…so not sure why they couldn’t have had kids early on in the marriage, since Caroline would have been the primary care giver (and since she wasn’t going back to school).

But okay, whatever, they waited 10 years. And now that they are trying for a baby, Caroline finds out he’s cheating, because, wait for it, he’s bored with his predictable, stable, and secure life. Eye roll. And then he tries to gaslight Caroline into believing that it was all HER fault! I can’t even with this guy. He’s such a piece of garbage (there are other supporting examples in the book of this) that I can’t believe Caroline didn’t notice the stench until she caught him cheating.

In all honesty, I’m not ever sure the Caroline story was really required because we learned everything that Caroline did from the Nella and Eliza storyline’s anyway.

Nella and Eliza on the other hand have stories that are much more interesting and include thrill, murder, intrigue, etc. Nella’s mother was an apothecary who dispensed remedies for women. When Nella’s mother died, Nella became romantically involved with a man. “In the weeks to follow, we fell terribly, wonderfully in love. My sea of grief grew shallower; I could breath again, and I could envision the future–a future with Frederick. I couldn’t have known that mere months after falling in love with him, I would dispense a fatal dose of rat poison to kill him. The first betrayal. The first victim. The beginning of a stained legacy.”

While I found Nella and Eliza’s story to be more interesting (I am also a big lover of the horror and true crime genres) Nella is, for all intents and purposes, a serial killer, and therefore while seemingly sympathetic, when you look deeper into her character, she is also a little dark. I mean, she’s literally been the reason why countless people are dead. And she doesn’t seem to care — or rather — she is glad that they are dead because they deserved it for being adulterous or lecherous or whatever else they did to affront the women in their lives. So in short, none of the characters are particularly relatable. I can understand wanting to harm someone who has betrayed you, but actually doing the harm is a whole different ball game.

I know that I’ve rambled a bit in this review, and I hope that I’ve made sense. Would I recommend this book? Yes…but there are other ones which I would pick up first.

BOOK REVIEW: The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Title: The Golden Couple

Author: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 3 minutes

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, Contemporary

Read Start Date: September 5, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Wealthy Washington suburbanites Marissa and Matthew Bishop seem to have it all—until Marissa is unfaithful. Beneath their veneer of perfection is a relationship riven by work and a lack of intimacy. She wants to repair things for the sake of their eight-year-old son and because she loves her husband. Enter Avery Chambers.

Avery is a therapist who lost her professional license. Still, it doesn’t stop her from counseling those in crisis, though they have to adhere to her unorthodox methods. And the Bishops are desperate.

When they glide through Avery’s door and Marissa reveals her infidelity, all three are set on a collision course. Because the biggest secrets in the room are still hidden, and it’s no longer simply a marriage that’s in danger.

My Review: The Goodreads synopsis is pretty good so I won’t elaborate on the plot much here, except to say that the book alternates between the perspectives of Marissa and Avery. There are threats lurking behind every corner. Marissa owns a boutique store and starts to get mysterious and at times threatening messages. Is it the guy she slept with? Is Matthew also having an affair with an old girlfriend.

Avery lost her professional license because she went one to step over the line: she broke a patient’s confidentiality when she took information she had learned during a session and leaked it to the news media, essentially becoming a whistle blower. Like Marissa, she is also being threatened, but by the pharmaceutical company who wants to know the name of the informant. Avery adopts a love bug of a Pitbull, but not for protection oddly. I have to say I was a little worried that the dog would get hurt protecting Avery at some point in the book, but happily NOPE! Finally! An author who knows to leave the dog alone 😀.

The authors do a good job of building the tension through out the book and although it started somewhat slow, by the end I couldn’t wait to find out what was in store at the story’s climax. The twist at the end was very unexpected, but I liked it!

This book was great as an audiobook, and it was possible to read while multitasking.

BOOK REVIEW: Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

54737068Title: Local Woman Missing

Author: Mary Kubica

Audiobook Length: 11 hours and 40 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, Crime, Contemporary

Read Start Date: August 30, 2022 

Read Finish Date: September 2, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold.

Now, 11 years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find….

In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times best-selling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.

My Review: I really struggled between giving this book 3 or 4 stars, but landed on 3 stars. This book is essentially about two women and a 6 year old girl who goes missing in the same town 11 years ago. The story is told by 3 separate POVs, some in the present and some 11 years in the past.

Essentially, the plot of the book is as follows: One woman (Shelby) is found dead, buried in a shallow grave — her husband is sent to prison for her murder. The other woman, Meredith, is found dead in a motel — death by apparent suicide — her 6 year old daughter is missing, and has been for the last 11 years. Meredith left a note saying that her daughter was “safe” and not to bother looking. The daughter, Delilah, is found in the opening scene of the book (after she escapes her captors), but her brother Leo soon suspects that the girl calling herself Delilah is not actually his sister.

I read some Goodreads reviews that said that they didn’t like the way the sentences were written. They were really short — however, this did not come across in the audiobook, so perhaps audiobook in this instance should be the preferred medium. For me, this was an easy listen and one that could be done while doing chores etc.

I liked the suspense of finding out what really happened — this was building through out the entire book. I was entertained and generally liked the book until I got to the end. I was disappointed as to how it all turned out. There was a lot of potential for this to be better than it was — the ending just was not plausible and there seems to be a lot of convenient police incompetence, which would not normally happen. I feel like so many things went wrong just for the sake of the story.

If you want to read this book, please do not read on.

SPOILER ALERT:

I need to give away key elements of the plot to fully state my feelings on why I gave this book 3 instead of 4 stars.

We are told that Leo and his dad always believed that Meredith killed herself after giving away Delilah to some unknown person. Say what now? Does that make sense to anyone? But ok. So they believe this hogwash, which means that they basically have believed the whole 11 years that Delilah is safe and happy living with some kind family.

Did the police really believe that Meredith would go to a motel, kill herself, but before doing that “hide” her daughter somewhere? Essentially give the child away to someone else?  Why would she do that? Meredith was happy in her career, her marriage, her life. The dad was a good guy, husband and father. It just really makes no freaking sense whatsoever. And who would she stash the daughter with? Wouldn’t there be a list of trusted friends?

If there was an Amber Alert out for the girl, how would no one recognize her? How would she be living a good life elsewhere without coming into contact with someone, anyone? A 6 year old girl is old enough to know who her parents are — she is old enough to tell someone. How anyone could have thought she was anything but kidnapped and hidden is ludicrous. And if she was kidnapped, then of course Meredith was murdered. Duh. Also, can’t pathologists figure out it wasn’t suicide by the angle of the wounds? Like, if Meredith was stabbed in the stomach, the angle of the wound would be different than if she stabbed herself in the stomach. Right? Sigh.

Then there is the issue of the girl being found. So Delilah escapes, and the cops take a DNA sample. Turns out, it is not the right girl, but the family keeps on thinking it is Delilah because one detective with a crush of the dad tells him that the DNA results are positive so that he won’t be sad anymore. Uh, what? No one else at the police department checked the file? Was this detective actively lying to everyone? Did she honestly think no one would find out?

By this point in the book, we have almost reached the culmination of the storyline 11 years in the past.

We find out that Shelby was a victim of a hit and run accident (Bea (Kate’s partner) was driving drunk with Meredith in the passenger seat). To hide the crime, Bea and Meredith bury the body in a shallow grave, and then Meredith comes back later to cover her with a blanket. There are so many problems with this. The police eventually arrest Shelby’s husband for the murder (I guess based upon the theory he beat her up or something), but like, hello, how is this even possible? She was HIT BY A CAR! Did the pathologist miss this fact? How did the police think the husband had killed her? And what about the blanket? Couldn’t they tell with forensics that the blanket was placed later — didn’t they look at video surveillance at shops to see who had purchased the blanket? Are the police in this town just crazy incompetent?

I mean these crimes did not take place in 1940 — DNA existed. I watch enough true crime to know that there is ALWAYS DNA left at the scene of the crime. I mean, come on. Was NO DNA testing done on Shelby’s body? And if not, why not? Did Shelby’s husband have an incompetent lawyer also?

The ending is probably the most farfetched, but I won’t spoil that for you. I could go on, but I won’t. I think you get the idea.

As I said above, I would recommend this book as a beach read or something you can listen to while multitasking. As long as you don’t think too much about the plot holes, it’s actually rather enjoyable.