Book Review: The Dream House

The Dream House by Jess Ryder

It’s everything she’s ever wanted …

When I first set eyes on Westhill House with its breath-taking views of the sea I knew Jack and I could make this our forever home.

It may be falling apart with an overgrown garden, but with some tender loving care, we can repair this beautiful building and perhaps our relationship too …

But the more time I spend renovating our new house, the more time Jack is spending at work.

At least Lori is here to keep me company.

She has her own troubles yet she always listens to mine.

She’s helping to restore the house, uncovering its secrets one by one.

Like the children’s drawings under the wallpaper in the back bedroom.

The hidden papers underneath the floorboards in the turret room.

And the fact that Westhill House is a place women used to go to feel safe …

Lori seems to know a lot about Westhill House.

The question is, why?

A gripping, spine-chilling read brimming with secrets and lies. If you loved The Girl on the Train, The Wife Between Us or The Woman in the Window then this dark, twisting psychological thriller from Amazon chart bestseller Jess Ryder is guaranteed to have you gripped.
Previously titled THE GUEST.

Review:
Ryder does a wonderful job in this domestic thriller about Stella, who finds her dream house and is fixing it up only to have her whole life unravel in the process.
The story is told from Stella’s point of view (in the present), and Kay’s (in the past). The house that Stella buys was once a woman’s refuge and it’s history becomes a part of the story, almost like it is another character.
When Lori appears on her doorstep one night, an obviously abused woman who believes the house is still a refuge, Stella takes her in, wanting to do the right thing. But we soon learn that something is not quite right as the story of the house past and present unfold in a chilling way.
This was a real page-turner and I was anxious to find out Stella’s, Lori’s, and Kay’s stories. There are secrets and lies, great twists, and anxious moments in this well written psychological thriller.
One of the major themes of the book is domestic violence and Ryder is very respectful and does a great job in her portrayal. She even explains at the end how she was careful not to put in anything gratuitous and even includes references for women needing support themselves.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: The Return of King Lillian

The Return of King Lillian by Suzie Plakson

The Return of King Lillian is a mythic journey tale – a metaphysical fantasy for dreamers and nonconformists of all ages.

So, why the manly moniker in tandem with the womanly name?

“The Firstborn Child of The Emperor-King Inherits the Ruling Crown, the Title of Emperor-King and All Powers Thereof.” (Item 37, The Royal Manual)

Enter Lillian, the firstborn child of said Emperor-King. Cast out of her Kingdom by malevolent forces, mysteriously waylaid by Destiny, the spirited, self-reliant Lillian sets off on an exuberant journey to find her way home and claim her birthright. As she travels through marvelous and mystical lands in search of her origins, Lillian encounters and befriends a kaleidoscopic cast of characters. Most of the tale is told by Lillian herself, as she chronicles her extraordinary adventures.

Review:
This is a fun story about Lillian, who doesn’t know who she is and is on a quest to find her home, and these are her adventures.
This book is told in a fairy tale like way, full of imagination, magic, talking horses, and fairies. It is reminiscent of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for its childlike stories that speak to a larger audience.
Each of the chapters is another adventure and something that Lillian must learn to become the person she needs to be at the end. Lillian herself is, for the most part, a good character, and I enjoyed Hank, the horse.
I did find the book a bit slow at times and, I hate to say it, didn’t love the ending. First there was the idea that she enjoyed being a damsel in distress and and was happy being saved by a man (even though she had been a strong, take care of herself kind of character up until this point and this wish was joltingly strange), and then there was the idealization of her father who actually had treated her quite badly.
Overall, this is a cute book and I can see why many people like it, but, ultimately, it was not for me.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for a review copy.
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Book Review: A Nearly Normal Family

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson, Rachel Willson-Broyles  (Translation)

M.T. Edvardsson’s A Nearly Normal Family is a gripping legal thriller that forces the reader to consider: How far would you go to protect the ones you love? In this twisted narrative of love and murder, a horrific crime makes a seemingly normal family question everything they thought they knew about their life—and one another.

Eighteen-year-old Stella Sandell stands accused of the brutal murder of a man almost fifteen years her senior. She is an ordinary teenager from an upstanding local family. What reason could she have to know a shady businessman, let alone to kill him?

Stella’s father, a pastor, and mother, a criminal defense attorney, find their moral compasses tested as they defend their daughter, while struggling to understand why she is a suspect. Told in an unusual three-part structure, A Nearly Normal Family asks the questions: How well do you know your own children? How far would you go to protect them?

Review:
I enjoyed this legal thriller about a daughter accused of murder and the fallout for the family — how the charges effect them, how they react, what the parents are willing to do to protect their daughter and their “happy family” appearance.
The story is told from 3 points of view, the pastor father, the lawyer mother, and the rebellious daughter accused of murder. As the novel evolves, the family history comes out and how outward appearances are not always accurate, how “normal” is not what it always appears to be once the surface is cracked, and what families, even troubled ones, are willing to do to protect each other.
The differing points of view were a good way to explore this family and their reasons for how they acted. I liked the tension and the uncertainty around who actually committed the crime. This is not an “action packed” thriller, more of a study and I did find some parts slow, especially during the father’s point of view section. Overall, though, I liked this book and the playing with the idea of what normal is and that behind closed doors we are different from the persona we present.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for a review copy of this book.
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Book Review: Ellie and the Harpmaker

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior

In the rolling hills of beautiful Exmoor, there’s a barn. And in that barn, you’ll find Dan. He’s a maker of exquisite harps – but not a great maker of conversation. He’s content in his own company, quietly working and away from social situations that he doesn’t always get right.

But one day, a cherry-socked woman stumbles across his barn and the conversation flows a little more easily than usual. She says her name’s Ellie, a housewife, alone, out on her daily walk and, though she doesn’t say this, she looks sad. He wants to make her feel better, so he gives her one of his harps, made of cherry wood.

And before they know it, this simple act of kindness puts them on the path to friendship, big secrets, pet pheasants and, most importantly, true love.

Review:
I enjoyed Ellie and the Harpmaker. It was a good, easy read, most of the time.
Ellie is married to overbearing, to the point of being controlling and abusive (in my opinion), Clive. Ellie is a complete doormat and it is hard to like a doormat, though I did want her to get out of her marriage. Ellie thinks she’s happy but clearly isn’t. She has no self esteem, which she blames on her mother, and nothing in her life except for her husband, one friend he doesn’t like, a sister who lives far away, and writing bad poetry. Clive has made sure she has nothing else and must rely on him for everything. I found this part of the book hard to read because I so wanted Ellie to stand up for herself and see what was going on. I wanted her friend and her sister to say something. Everyone knew how horrible Clive was but no one did anything.
But, maybe that’s realistic and why it’s so hard to read about?
Ellie discovers a secluded barn one day where Dan, a (probably) autistic harpmaker lives and works. Ellie is in love with the harps and wants to learn. She feels the music so deeply, but her husband (of course) won’t let her have one. So, she goes to Dan’s while Clive is at work and learns to play the harp.
Dan is an interesting character. It’s not said, but he is clearly on the autism spectrum and is very rountined. He is a brilliant harpmaker and his sister takes care of the business aspect for him. He is observant, clever, and innocently wise. It’s easy to like him and get pulled into his observations about nature, stones, the sky, trees, etc. Some of these descriptions are wonderful.
Another great addition to the book is Phineas, a pheasant who is saved by Dan. The pheasant actually adds quite a bit to the book.
There is great tension in the book about the harp lessons and how/when Clive will find out and how he’ll react. There is also a budding attraction between Ellie and Dan.
Like I said, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it for a light, summer, kind of romance read. The writing is great and the descriptions are fantastic, especially of nature, music, and harpmaking.
Thank you to Netgalley and Bantam Press for the review copy.
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