The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

3 stars

How far would someone go to inhabit someone else’s life? Apparently, if you’re Amber Patterson, you’d go pretty far to try to become the beautiful, wealthy socialite Daphne Parrish.

The Last Mrs. Parrish sitting on a round wood table in front of sunflowers in a mason jar vase.

If you are looking for a few hours of escapism and you enjoy diabolical characters, you will enjoy this one. With a simple plot and a small cast of characters, this book can easily be digested in a day or read in multiple sittings over time.

One of the review blurbs on the back cover calls this “The Talented Mr. Ripley with XX chromosomes.” Having just read The Talented Mr. Ripley, in some ways it is an appropriate comparison. Both books feature a central character accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. Amber is certainly as conniving, entitled, and manipulative as Tom Ripley. However, the person whose life is being coveted has more of a voice and backstory in The Last Mrs. Parrish. I really appreciated this difference. In fact, I found Daphne’s part of the book to be more engaging than Amber’s. After a while, Amber’s tricks and entitled inner dialogue got a little repetitive and boring. 

One unique aspect of this debut book is how it was written. Two sisters living in different states co-wrote it under a pen name that combines parts of each of their names. I thought that was an interesting fact, and it made me want to learn more about them and their writing process. I’d read another book written by the Constantine sisters.

One Little Secret by Cate Holahan

3 out of 5 stars

One Little Secret? More like countless big secrets in this domestic thriller by Cate Holahan. 

I picked up this closed-room mystery book during a BookBub special. The story centers around 3 sets of neighbors who ship their kids off to camp and spend a week together in Long Island. Soon after arrival, drama occurs and one of the wives turns up dead on the beach.

At first, the characters seemed so interchangeable, that I had a hard time remembering which spouse went with who. Once I got everyone straight, the story became more compelling. While some parts of the story were predictable, others kept me guessing. As the story unfolded, it was less and less believable that these couples, who seemed more like frenemies, willingly went on vacation together.

Photo by Flash Mama Photography

The subplot with the detective and her family added an interesting dimension to the story. 

Although One Little Secret is not a book that will likely make a lasting impression, it was a great weekend distraction.

Layla by Colleen Hoover

4 out of 5 stars

An ipad mini with the cover of Colleen Hoover's book Layla on screen. The device is laying on a bench surrounded by fall leaves.

I came across Layla by Colleen Hoover on Prime Reading. Having recently read Verity, I was excited to try another CoHo book. If you’ve read and liked Verity and you are okay with a little paranormal flair, chances are you will enjoy this book as well.

It is an incredibly fast read with several unpredictable elements. I appreciated that the story focuses on a limited set of characters. I can sometimes get lost when a story has too many side characters.  Even though I liked that there were a small number of characters, I didn’t connect strongly with the main characters. For me, I think this was because there was almost no character development leading up to their love at first sight meeting.

While I didn’t connect strongly with either Layla or Leeds, I was surprised to find myself invested in what happens to their relationship. It was purely the writing and the strength of the story that held my attention in this one.

I will certainly be reading more of Hoover’s books. Are you a Colleen Hoover fan? Which book of hers should I read next?

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

3 out of 5 stars 

The book, The Talented Mr. Ripley, laying on a pile of green ivy and brown sticks.

This book was on the sale table at Barnes and Noble and with a cover the color of murder, it caught my eye. I knew very little about the storyline other than a vague memory of the trailer for the late 90s version of the movie based on the book. 

I think having little knowledge of the storyline is the best way to experience this classic psychological thriller. The Talented Mr. Ripley gives readers a glimpse into the mind of a sly, manipulative psychopath. The book starts slowly and, for the first 80 pages or so, it’s hard to tell where the book is going. However, it quickly takes a turn and we see Ripley repeatedly display the full array of his “talents” for the rest of the book.

Written in the 50s, the tone of the book doesn’t feel modern, but the storyline holds up. I found it interesting to think about how the events would have played out differently if it was set in the present time with the technology available today.

While I did enjoy the book, I was frustrated by the way Marge’s character was written. As the main female character, I didn’t love that she was portrayed as so weak with very little growth. I kept rooting for her to wisen up but it never happened.

Although I’m glad I read this classic, I don’t see myself rushing out to read the rest of the books in this series anytime soon. I don’t feel the need to spend any more time in the mind of Tom Ripley.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

4 out of 5 stars

Cassie Bowden is an alcoholic flight attendant with a history of drunken one-night stands and blackouts. So it’s not surprising when she hooks up with Alex, a handsome passenger she flirted with during most of the flight to Dubai. What is surprising is when she wakes up next to his dead body the next morning, covered in blood and with no memory of what happened.

“Remember that person you wanted to be? There’s still time.”

Chris Bohjalian, The Flight Attendant

This book is a psychological thriller that deals as much with Cassie’s drinking problem, lying, and out-of-control behavior as it does unraveling the mystery of who killed Alex. We witness Cassie making one bad decision after another for 80 percent of this book. 

While Cassie isn’t the most sympathetic character, I found myself pulling for her to get it together. I didn’t totally see the ending coming, which I always appreciate in a thriller.

The Flight Attendant is my first book by Chris Bohjalian. It was compelling enough that I want to look up his other books and see what they are about.

Stranded by Sarah Goodwin

4 out of 5 stars

I pre-ordered Stranded after seeing Twitter connection and Book Blogger Dawn Robinson post about it being one of her top reads this year. I’m so glad I did!

When botanist Maddy loses her parents, the only two people who have ever cared about her, she signs up to live for a year on a remote island with 7 strangers for a reality TV show. The show is similar to Survivor, but with harsher conditions and no competitions. Things start off well enough, but soon, the socially awkward Maddy finds herself outcast by the group.

This book was a fascinating study in human behavior, and all that can go wrong when people are trapped together, fighting for survival, and toxic groupthink ensues. 

The premise grabbed me from the beginning. The book itself built slowly, and then quickly picked up the pace. Once I got to the 40% mark, I literally stayed up all night to finish.

The book is told from Maddy’s perspective, and she is the most likable character among the 8 castaways. I related to her introverted, straightforward nature and thought she was a trustworthy narrator, which made it hard to understand why the others so turned on her. With no competitions or prize winners, the point of the TV show also wasn’t well established. Aside from these minor issues, this was a well-written, absorbing read.

I think this book is one my book club would enjoy. I will most certainly be on the lookout for Sarah Goodwin’s next novel.

Darkness Falls by Robert Bryndza

3 out of 5 stars

In this murder mystery, Kate Marshall and Tristan Harper, two private investigators at Kate’s new agency, work together to find out what happened to Joanna Duncan, a journalist who went missing 12 years prior.

After gaining access to the old case files, Kate uncovers a connection between Joanna and two missing men. While this story was a pretty standard mystery involving a journalist, a politician, and sex scandals, Bryndza includes enough plot twists to keep it unpredictable. I wanted to find out what happened and how the cases were connected.

The book does perpetuate some stereotypes, and I found the ending to be a little chaotic.

Darkness Falls is the third book in a new series by Bryndza. It worked well as a stand alone, although I may have connected better with Kate had I read the first two books in the series.

Overall, the story was entertaining enough that I would be interested in reading other books by this author.

Thank you to Netgalley for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

4 out of 5 stars

The Last He Told Me by Laura Dave sitting on a book shelf.

Hannah Hall and Owen Michaels are happily married newlyweds, and Hannah has been trying unsuccessfully to build a relationship with Owen’s teenage daughter, Bailey. When Owen suddenly disappears, Hannah is left with Bailey and a few cryptic clues suggesting that Bailey may be in danger.  

“This is the thing about good and evil. They aren’t so far apart—and they often start from the same valiant place of wanting something to be different.”

Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me

I thought this was a gripping book, and although there are a few unrealistic parts, I was able to look past them because I wanted so badly to know what would happen to Hannah, Bailey, and Owen. Hannah was relatable as a wife and parental figure to a teenage girl. The relationship between Hannah and Bailey is the heart of the book. 

It was refreshing to read a thriller where the main characters were basically good people caught up in a difficult situation. I enjoyed the pacing of this novel and I appreciated that the story wasn’t predictable.

I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a fast-paced thriller with likable characters.

Verity by Colleen Hoover

4 out of 5 stars

Verity was my book club’s most recent pick. All I can say is “Wow, wow, wow!” It pulled me in from the very first page and didn’t let go. 

The book opens with relatively unknown author Lowen Ashleigh witnessing a gruesome accident on her way to meet with a potential client. Still unsettled from the accident, she is offered a lucrative deal to co-write for best-selling author Verity Crawford, who has been injured in a car crash.

After moving into the Crawford family home, Lowen discovers Verity’s disturbing memoirs, and things start to really get interesting for Lowen and the Crawford family.

I read the book in a few hours because I was compelled to find out what happened. The storyline is unique and layered, and the writing is good, which helps make up for some of the flaws.

The good thing about sins is they don’t have to be atoned for immediately.

Colleen Hoover, Verity

There are several graphic sex scenes in the book, which I could have done without. The reader has to suspend belief in more than one place in the book and overlook some terrible decisions by the main character.

Between Verity’s enigmatic character, Lowen’s questionable choices, and the dark and twisty plot, there is plenty for book clubs to discuss after reading this one. 

Verity was the first book I’ve read by Hoover, a self-publishing success story. I’m intrigued by Hoover’s writing style, and have downloaded “Layla” as my next read from her.

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

“The world was filled with people who carried secrets. No one was who they seemed to be.”

5 out of 5 stars

The Last Flight explores themes of identity, women’s friendships, and the limits of what an ordinary person will do to escape a threatening situation. The book begins with Claire making plans to flee an abusive marriage to a high-profile husband. She plans to disappear after flying to Denver for a charity speaking engagement but at the last minute switches tickets with a stranger, Eva, who was heading home to Oakland, California. 

The story moves quickly — I read the book in a day. The book uses a dual storyline approach, alternating between Claire in the present day and Eva in the few months before the flight. I was vested in both characters and storylines, although Claire’s storyline was the stronger of the two. 

I gave the book five stars because of the unique premise, the strong female characters, and the quality of the writing. There were a lot of memorable lines in the book. While I rated the book highly, a few events and scenes stretch the limits of believability. For example, after Claire disappears, she uses a laptop she had before her escape to access her husband’s emails and Google docs without being detected. This fact didn’t add up for me, given how much time was spent earlier in the book describing how closely Rory and his associates tracked her every move through technology. For me, these minor flaws didn’t take away from the story.

Overall, this was an excellent read, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a fast-paced, page-turner focused on women.