‘The Guilt Trip’ by Sandie Jones: Is anyone NOT guilty?

The Guilt Trip by Sandie Jones

After reading several novels in which people aren’t who they appear to be and the plots kind of blur together, I worried that “The Guilt Trip” by Sandie Jones would be another disappointment. I had really enjoyed her previous books: “The Other Woman,” “The First Mistake” and “The Half Sister.” I am thrilled to say that “The Guilt Trip” kept me enthralled and turning page after page till the surprising ending. And yes, there is one character who is not as he or she (no spoilers!) appears to be, but it’s not the usual kind of misleading characterization.

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‘The Therapist’ by B. A. Paris is a marvelous mystery

The Therapist by B.A. Paris

The title “The Therapist” is a big part of the mystery itself. Author B.A. Paris lets us know, first through occasional first person posts from someone who is obviously a therapist, that the identity of the therapist is a mystery. We have no idea who the therapist is, nor do we know who the clients are. But we do know that there is something off about this therapist with a “relaxation room” next door.

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‘Her Perfect Life’ by Hank Phillippi Ryan; what does it take to be perfect?

Her Perfect Life by Hank Phillippi Ryan

The word “perfect” has many connotations. We dream of the perfect vacation, the perfect home, the perfect family, the perfect job. But for each of us, that word, perfect, has a different meaning. In “Her Perfect Life,” Hank Phillippi Ryan presents a main character, Lily Atwood, whose life seems perfect. She’s a television reporter, and her onscreen image is as beautifully perfect as her offscreen life. She lives in a beautiful house with a beautiful seven-year-old daughter and a beautiful nanny, and she scrupulously maintains her appearance to be beautiful. Everything about Lily matches the Instagram hashtag her fans have created: #PerfectLily.

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‘Defending Britta Stein’ by Ronald H. Balson: thrilling courtroom drama and history about how the Danish saved the Jews in WWII

Defending Britta Stein by Ronald H. Balson

In “Defending Britta Stein” by Ronald H. Balson, attorney Catherine Lockhart and her husband, private investigator Liam Taggert, are the actors whose actions bring about justice in an unlikely manner. Through these two characters, both well known to Balson fans, we are privy to the history of a family of Danish Jews during WWII. As is standard in Balson’s novels, there is a story-within-a-story, and Lockhart and Taggert are the vehicles through which the Holocaust story is told. The storytelling is gripping, and this courtroom drama showcases the unity and bravery of the Danish people in saving most of their population of Jews during WWII when the Germans decided to implement their final solution on the Jews of Denmark.

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‘The Family Plot’ by Megan Collins is a twisted story of a family history built on lies

The Family Plot by Megan Collins

In the very first sentence of “The Family Plot,” by Megan Collins, the first person narrator shares the fact that she was named Dahlia after Black Dahlia, an actress who was gruesomely murdered. Likewise, her siblings were named after other murder victims, including her twin brother, Andy, named after Lizzie Borden’s father. The matriarch of the Lighthouse family came from a wealthy family, and her children knew, growing up, that her parents were murder victims. Their father was distant from the two girls, but shared his favorite pastime, hunting, with Andy and their older brother Charlie.

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‘Island Queen’ by Vanessa Riley is historical fiction based on the life of a rags-to-riches story that was really slave-to-riches

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Those who start life with nothing and eventually become wealthy have nothing on Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, who started with less than nothing but became an extremely rich, powerful woman in her own right. How does one start with less than nothing, you might wonder? In “Island Queen,” by Vanessa Riley, we meet Dolly, as she was known, who was born a slave. Her father, the Irish plantation owner, taught her numbers and the value of money. She was determined to earn enough money to free herself, her mother, and her sister. Dolly ended up accomplishing that and much, much more.

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‘Blind Tiger’ by Sandra Brown is an action-packed historical fiction with a fascinating female main character

Blind Tiger by Sandra Brown

Exploring the bleak times during Prohibition becomes a thrill-ride in Sandra Brown’s “Blind Tiger.” The story is set right after the “Great War,” and is filled with nonstop action as we meet Laurel Plummer, who ends up in small-town Foley, Texas, after her husband abandons her in his father’s one-room shack. Laurel is left with her sickly, premature newborn, Pearl, in a drafty cabin with no running water or electricity. Laurel, as we come to find out, is a tough character and not one to let a desperate situation keep her down.

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‘A Summer to Remember’ by Erika Montgomery is about the secrets we keep for love

A Summer to Remember by Erika Montgomery

We all have secrets, but the secrets in “A Summer to Remember” by Erika Montgomery are secrets that will rock two families to the core. At the center of the story are Frankie Simon and Louise Chandler, who live on opposite coasts. Frankie is 30 years old and lives in Los Angeles. She runs the memorabilia store her mother started, and she loves the memories that the items she sells evoke from the movies she loved watching with her mother. In Harpswich, Massachusetts, Louise Chandler lives with her physician husband and runs the Stardust Film Festival, one that she had started decades previously with movie star Glory Cartwright. She and her husband, Russ, were Glory’s friends, and her husband grew up in Harpswich with Glory’s movie star husband, Mitch Beckett.

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‘The Tiger Mom’s Tale’ by debut author Lyn Liao Butler is a story of conflicting cultures and the love of family that is at the center of both

The Tiger Mom’s Tale by Lyn Liao Butler

Lyn Liao Butler knows what it’s like to experience conflicting cultures, so the different cultures she depicts in “The Tiger Mom’s Tale” ring true. Butler’s Instagram videos of her parents demonstrating cooking traditional Taiwanese dishes show that while she lives in America, fosters dogs, has a child, and lives the American dream, her roots (her parents) are from Taiwan. Main character Lexa’s roots are American, like her mother’s. But there is also the part of her that is Taiwanese, like the father she didn’t meet until she was eight. And until a traumatic event happened in Taiwan when Lexa was fourteen, she thought that she could straddle both cultures and be lucky enough to be loved by both her American family and her Taiwanese family. We find out that’s not always as easy as one might imagine.

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‘Hostage’ by Clare Mackintosh is a seat-of-your-pants thriller about betrayal, love, and family

Hostage by Clare Mackintosh

With “Hostage,” Clare Mackintosh gives us a thriller with nonstop action and not one set of hostages, but two. The family at the center of these hostage situations is the Holbrook family: Adam, MIna and Sophia. Adam is a police inspector and Mina is a flight attendant. Sophia is their adopted daughter, and we learn a lot about the harmful effects of neglect in the first year of a child’s life. Sophia has an attachment disorder which makes her difficult at times, and she is also extremely bright. Mackintosh does a fabulous job introducing the three main characters, and we learn about them from the first person narratives Adam and Mina provide, each chapter detailing the time and the narrator.

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‘False Witness’ by Karin Slaughter is a brutal and compelling account of what we will do for love

False Witness by Karin Slaughter

With her latest thriller, “False Witness,” author Karin Slaughter creates three characters we can’t stop thinking about. We meet sisters Callie and Leigh, both raised by a brutal, uncaring mother in extreme poverty. Both abused physically, sexually, and emotionally. What is different is how Callie and Leigh react to that abuse; what is the same is that the abuse ends up controlling both their lives—just with vastly different outcomes. She also explores the psychology of our brain after trauma. How do we know our memories are true? What does trauma or abuse do to our personality, our brain? And with the third character, she explores what a psychopath is capable of—in horrifying detail.

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‘Dog Eat Dog’ by David Rosenfelt takes intrepid Andy Carpenter to Maine where he performs his legal/investigative magic

Dog Eat Dog by David Rosenfelt

Every Andy Carpenter mystery has a dog in it—usually more than one, and “Dog Eat Dog” is no different. The dog is often the device by which the main character, Andy Carpenter, gets dragged, kicking and screaming (figuratively, at least) into representing someone charged with murder. Someone we readers know is innocent. In this case, the accused murderer meets Andy when they see a dog being abused by its owner. The poor dog is being kicked and dragged on a leash, and before Andy’s intrepid wife Laurie can reach the abuser to stop the abuse (Andy allows her to be the enforcer as she is a former cop), another man steps in. After telling the abuser to stop, the abuser punches the would-be rescuer who then punches back. The police arrive and arrest both men. The dog savior tells Andy it’s not going to go well for him, and Andy doesn’t know why. It was clearly self-defense.

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