Tammy Cohen – The Wedding Party

Tammy Cohen – The Wedding Party

All her life Lucy has dreamt of the perfect wedding. It took her 18 months to plan everything to detail so that her nuptials to Jason would be the most spectacular moment. The wedding party arrives on the beautiful Greek island of Kefalonia already a couple of days prior to enjoy themselves and to prepare for the big day. Yet, from the start, things do not run as smoothly as expected. Lucy’s sister Jess appears with a stranger in tow, her parents behave strangely and her wedding planner Nina is asking repeatedly for the pay of the last bill which Lucy simply couldn’t settle as she has been overspending and is totally broke. It is only her best friend Shelly who supports her unconditionally. But this is only the beginning, with the strange woman Vivian, a doomy omen seems to have arrived at their luxurious hotel threatening not only to destroy the best day of her life but her whole family.

I have been a huge fan of Tammy Cohen for years and thus was looking forward to reading her latest novel. Again, she did not disappoint me but created a gripping plot which had me struggle to put the book down once I had started. Brilliantly crafted, suspense is high from the beginning as you know that something absolutely terrible is going to happen, yet, the big question is: what?

Lucy just wants her wedding to be perfect, not necessarily for herself, but much more for her Instagram followers and colleagues. She seems to be doing everything right except for spending money she does not have and not telling her husband-to-be about it. Her sister, on the contrary, is more on the rebel side of life not caring too much about outer appearances and following her own ideals. That she might spoil her sister’s wedding by bringing a total stranger does not really occur to her, it is just her way of having a bit of fun. Their parents, too, seem to have fallen apart, even though the girls do not have a clue why this might be. Just for the sake of the wedding, they all try at least to play their assigned role for a couple of days longer.

Even though it could be a carefree week under the sun, smaller and bigger secrets surface one after the other leading to an increasingly dense atmosphere among the party and opening up all doors for speculation about what might happen. From the police interviews interjected, you can only guess so much, but this is this theorising that makes reading the novel great fun.

Wonderfully depicted characters who all have their flaws and shortcomings mixed with a lot of drama and suspense – a perfect summer read.

Megan Abbott – The Turnout

Megan Abbott – The Turnout

Ballet has always been the world of sisters Dara and Marie. Their glamourous mother, a former ballet soloist, had kept them close and after the parents’ death, they have taken over the Durant School of Dance together with Dara’s husband Charlie who had become a family member as a boy. When a fire destroys one of their studios amidst the preparations of their biggest annual event, the performance of “The Nutcracker”, they hire Derek, a seemingly highly skilled contractor, to have everything restored as quickly as possible. Yet, they do not have the least idea of whom they let into their studio and lives. The fire was just the beginning of a series of dreadful events which will change their lives forever.

“No one wanted to face the truth. That every family was a hothouse, a swamp. Its own atmosphere, its own rules. Its own laws and gods. There would never be any understanding from the outside. There couldn’t be.”

Megan Abbott is a master of foreshadowing and again has created unique characters who reveal their full potential slowly throughout the novel. The title – “The Turnout” – is quite ambiguous but perfectly fits in several respects. A turnout is a demanding move in ballet and that’s what the sisters expects from their élèves. Secondly, it is also the moment where you are confronted with different directions and have to decide for one. Thirdly, it is a clearing out, an act of cleaning what has been spoilt. All three can be found in the novel. The preparation for the ballet performance is at the centre when the sisters get into a deep conflict in which they decide for different roads and, in the end, the initial state is restored and all disruptive factors are cleared. At least they might think so.

The novel moves at a rather slow pace but this adds the creepy atmosphere which makes the plot quite authentic. The threat does not come in in an obvious way, it is sneaking into their lives with a friendly and smiling face like a predator who observes his prey, gets closer and tenaciously waits for the perfect moment to attack.

It is also a novel about family structures and sisterly bonds. Quite obviously, their mother’s way of keeping the girls away from other children, of treating them in a special – or rather: strange – way to form them according to her own ideals cannot be healthy. Dara and Marie become like two sides of one coin, an inseparable unit which even cannot be divided by Charlie who integrates into their union. No wonder, at a certain point in life, such a bond is threatened and the lack of experience with people makes them even more vulnerable than others might have been.

From a psychological point of view, an outstanding novel which is also full of spine-chilling suspense.

Marie Aubert – Grown Ups

Marie Aubert – Grown Ups

Sisters Ida and Marthe have planned to spend some days together at their cabin close to the sea where they will be joined by their mother and her partner. Ida is reluctant to go there, with her 40th birthday only a couple of weeks ago and still no father for prospective children in view, she knows that her window of becoming a mother is getting closer and closer. This is why she decided to freeze some of her eggs. Yet, it does not hinder her from negative feelings towards Marthe who, now pregnant and stepmother of beautiful 6-year-old Olea, seems – as always – to get everything she wants. Hard feelings accompany Ida and slowly turn their holiday together into a catastrophe.

I totally enjoyed Marie Aubert’s novel as I could easily sympathise with her narrator and protagonist. Additionally, there is some fine irony and humour in the text which make it a great read. The relationship between sisters quite often is all but easy and even as grown-ups, hard feelings and emotional injuries from the childhood can sit deep and hinder them from ever having a healthy bond.

Ida obviously is envious, her sister not only has a living husband but also a lovely stepdaughter and she’s pregnant. Even though Ida is a successful architect, she has never managed to establish a functioning relationship with a partner and feels lonely and somehow failed in life. Always being second, this is how she has grown up, no matter which achievements she reached, there was always Marthe who was ill and thus spoilt those rare moments of joy for Ida. Their mother does not seem to be aware of the difference she makes between the girls – yet, one has also to take into account that we only get Ida’s point of view which quite naturally is not only limited but highly biased.

“It’s not right That it should be so easy for others and so hard for me, I don’t get it, if there’s some sort of formula, a code that others know about, one they’ve known since they were young but which I’ve never quite grasped.”

Ida gets worked up about her sister and is willing to destroy her sister’s life when she is drunk one evening. This is rather tragic to observe and Ida turns into a pitiable character who does not realise that she will be even lonelier if she loses these last persons around her. She is aware of this but cannot act differently.

Marie Aubert’s debut is elegantly narrated, yet, the story leaves you with mixed feelings. It is joyful at times but the dysfunctional family is also an emotional challenge.

Courtney Summers – The Project

Courtney Summer – The Project

Lo Denham has lost her parents in a car accident in which she herself was also seriously injured and which marked her with a scar for life. Her sister Bea, six years her senior, is the last bit of family she has, but she has not been able to contact her for months. It must be The Unity Project’s fault, the sect Bea joined when she couldn’t make sense of the loss she experienced anymore. When a man claims that The Unity Project killed his son, Lo decides to take a closer look and to get nearer to the charismatic leader Lev Warren with the aim to expose the group’s doings in the magazine she works for. However, Lo is not prepared for the experiences she makes there.

Courtney Summers narrates the story from different points of view at different points in time, thus we get both sisters’ perspective on the highly emotional events in their lives. This also creates a lot of suspense since from the beginning, there are gaps which need to be filled to make sense. It also underlines the different characters of Lo and Bea which, nevertheless, does not hinder them from being fascinated by the same man.

The crucial point is most definitely the psychological impact a major tragic event such as the loss of the parents can have on young persons. Coming to grips with such a stroke of fate which does not make sense and is hard to understand is not only very hard but also makes people fragile and prone to others who are eager to exploit their situation. The leader of the group is surely an interesting character, it is easy to see how he manages to win people for his project and how he can make them follow him blindly. In this way, the novel also cleverly portrays the mechanism which work behind sects and which make it difficult to immediately see through them and more importantly to leave them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel due to the multifaceted characters and the message beyond the suspenseful and entertaining plot.

Daisy Johnson – Sisters

Daisy Johnson – Sisters

Two sisters, September and July, just 10 months apart in age but sticking together like twins, even more, just as if they were only one person. In Oxford, where they first lived with their mother, an author of children’s books featuring two girls just like her own daughters, they were always in trouble and didn’t make friends with the other kids. By moving to the old family house, their mother hopes things will get easier. However, the spooky surroundings with walls who could tell decades of dark stories, triggers something between the girls which makes their unhealthy bond even more dangerous for the younger and weaker of the two sisters.

Daisy Johnson portrays a sisterly connection which goes far beyond what is known to link siblings. The fact that the girls are born within only a couple of months makes them grow up and experience everything together. They are like one person separated incidentally, also their character seems to have split in the two: September the wild and furious one, July, in contrast, obedient and more thoughtful. Since she is younger, she easily gives in to her sister’s will and thus follows without ever challenging her.

The atmosphere is gloomy in every line. Right from the start, you sense that some catastrophe is looming and just waiting to present itself. Even though at times, the sisterly bond also seems to be protective, the negative impact is obvious. Their mother is detached, she suffers from a depression which makes it impossible for her to see what is coming, she senses that the relationship her daughters have formed in detrimental, even harmful for July, but she is unable to do something about it.

An intense and vivid narrative with quite some eerie notes.

Tanen Jones – The Better Liar

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Tanen Jones – The Better Liar

When her father dies, he leaves a wish in his will that Leslie Flores hasn’t expected: she will only inherit the money if her sister Robin also signs the papers. So she sets out for Las Vegas where Robin is supposed to live. They haven’t talked for a decade and Leslie is all but looking forward to do so now. But when she finally arrives at her sister’s apartment, she finds her dead and apparently, Robin has lived there under a false name. When Leslie makes the acquaintance of young charismatic Mary who dreams of a career as an actress, an idea forms in her head: why not take the woman with her back to Albuquerque and have her play Robin’s role for a couple of days? Nobody has seen her sister for ten years and Mary has some clear resemblance to Robin, so why should anybody become suspicious? It’s is a win-win situation, Mary could take her share of the money and make her start in Hollywood and Leslie would get her part of her father’s inheritance. Mary agrees but soon she realises that the respectable wife and mother also has some secrets she hides.

Tanen Jones’s “The Better Liar” is a highly surprising psychological novel with many unexpected twists and turns. The two protagonists develop from average women into enemies who fight their war on a very high emotional and psychological level. The story is told alternately from their different points of you, thus the reader is always aware of their respective plots and ahead of each character – at least you believe you are, but at certain point you also have to recognise that there are some highly relevant pieces of information they did not reveal to you and this makes things appear in a totally different light.

The novel starts at a rather slow pace with Leslie looking out for her sister and then finding her dead and seeing her father’s money in jeopardy. You wonder why she would take a stranger to her house, especially a house with a very young kid – this seems to be too dangerous, just for the money? Why does she need it, seemingly, she and her husband lead quite a good life. This and the question if she really succeeds with presenting a stranger as her sister seem to be the mystery of the novel, yet, with Mary’s arrival in Albuquerque, the real story slowly unfolds and the plot takes up pace and becomes much more dynamic and gripping.

Tanen Jones wonderfully leads the reader into wrong directions over and over again which I liked a lot. I totally adored how the two women play with each other and was eagerly awaiting the end to see who would finally win their very special game. Yet, some twists lacked a bit plausibility, but from a psychological point of view, a great read.

Liz Moore – Long Bright River

liz-moore-long-bright-river
Liz Moore – Long Bright River

Two sisters who could hardly differ more. Mickey has always been the serious, more diligent one who went to school eagerly and was dreaming of a better life than the one they had at their not very loving grandmother’s. Kacey, eighteen months her junior, has always been the wilder, more adventurous girl who early pushed against the boundaries. Now, as grown-ups, they find themselves on opposing sides: Mickey has become a cop with the Philadelphia police, Kacey is highly addicted and working on the street. Mickey always has an eye on her younger sister even though they haven’t been talking for years. When several young and vulnerable women are killed, Mickey is highly alarmed since she hasn’t seen Kacey for several weeks.

Liz Moore‘s novel is a brilliant combination of a mystery novel with the search for a serial killer and a very sad story about a dysfunctional family where problems are handed from one generation to the next and where an escape is not really possible not matter how hard you try. Even though it looks as if there were clear sides, the good sister Mickey and the bad sister Kacey, you realise soon that life isn‘t that easy and that both women are more like different and changing shades of grey.

Mickey is a great protagonist in so far as she has a lot of interesting traits to offer. On the one hand, she is the hard working single mom who only wants the best for her son and constantly fears that she cannot live up to her own expectations. As a policewoman, too, she seems to do a great job, her family history helping her to understand the situation of the less favoured by life and those on the streets. That she suffers from constant misogyny in the forces does not really astonish. Yet, there are also other sides of the young women which only slowly unfold and show that there are a lot of lies she has been told by the people around her, but also lies that she told herself to shape the things in the way she wants to see them.

The mystery parts about the serial killer and the search for the sister are full of suspense and have some unexpected twists and turns to offer. What struck me most was the feeling that a lot of what Moore narrates is actually very sad, none of the characters has much to look forward to in their life and all seems but too authentic. A novel which provides entertainment but also much to ponder about after the last page thus something not to be missed.

Wendy Clarke – We Were Sisters

wendy-clarke-we-were-sisters
Wendy Clarke – We Were Sisters

Kelly’s childhood was all but easy. Her father was never at home and her mother didn’t care about her at all, her whole focus was on the foster children who came and went off again. When Kelly was eight, she was promised a sister, this time to stay with them forever. Freya, two years her senior, turned out to be a very headstrong and reckless girl who soon took over control and manipulated Kelly’s mum. This is why Kelly was not too sad when she did not return after a stay at a hospital. Yet, a couple of years later, Freya is back, but now, Kelly is older and not the weak girl who puts up with everything anymore. However, all these are stories of the past, by now, Kelly has a loving husband and three wonderful kids. But, when strange things start to happen, Kelly is unsure whether to blame the lack of sleep or if she is reading the signs correctly. Is Freya back? But she saw her die, this cannot be, can it?

Wendy Clarke’s thriller “We were sisters” keeps the reader a long time in the dark. The story is narrated at two periods of time, on the one hand, the adult Kelly who tries to cope with three children and the constant fear that something from the past might endanger her lucky little family; on the other hand, her memories of the past, the disturbed family she grew up in and the encounter with her foster sister Freya. Thus, it takes some time to sort out what happened and to form an idea of what the signs she sees might mean actually. The author, however, has to offer some twists and turns which come quite unexpectedly.

I adore those stories where there is a creepy feeling that there is a threat coming from somewhere without the characters knowing where to look for it. I was really surprised by the ending as it all turns out quite differently from what I had in mind – brilliantly done. Nevertheless, even though it all makes totally sense, I had the impression that it was a bit too much. Also Kelly’s relationship – or rather: non-relationship – with her parents seemed a bit exaggerated to me, just as her feeling of being threatened without a real reason before all the strange things started to happen. Yet, I enjoyed Wendy Clarke’s writing a lot, she certainly knows how to keep you hooked.

Claire Douglas – Then She Vanishes

claire-douglas-then-she-vanishes
Claire Douglas – Then She Vanishes

A double murder shakes the small seaside town of Tilby. Heather, a 32-year-old mother of a small boy has killed Clive Wilson, 58, and his mother Deirdre, 76, in the early hours before attempting suicide. But why did she do it? Did she even know them? Her mother is devastated and so is Heather’s childhood friend Jess, now a journalist with a newspaper in Bristol. For almost twenty years, they had not been in contact, but now she is reaching out to the family Jess once regarded as her own. How can one single family be stricken by fate that often? Heather’s father was killed in an accident when a gun was fired, her older sister Flora went missing at the age of sixteen, and now this. There’s something rotten, obviously, but can Jess figure it out?

Another page-turning mystery by Claire Douglas that hooked me immediately. I had high expectations that were totally fulfilled: many mysteries to solve, twists and turns, unexpected links and whole lot of characters that are not to be trusted. Just what you would expect from a great thriller.

What I liked most about the story were the secrets that everybody keeps, those small things that seem to be without any importance but suddenly become crucial but then it’s already too late to tell them. And then, people have to live with the knowledge that they are keeping some major facts that when being told could have saved somebody or prevented a lot of things. The plot is quite complex, at the beginning it all seems quite obvious, yet, the more it advances the more characters are added and the more multi-layered it becomes. Whenever you think you have seen through it all, your theory simply crumbles and falls – and this works out until the very last page.

Simply a great read that I could hardly put down.

Felicity McLean – The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

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Felicity McLean – The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone

It’s been twenty years that Tikka Molloy fled her Australian home. Now that her sister is seriously ill, she returns not only to her family but also to a secret that the girls have kept for two decades. They have always been friends with the three van Apfel girls who just lived across the street, Cordelia, Hannah and Ruth were their closest friends that they confided in. And so did the Molloy girls. This is why they shared their plan of running away. But something went totally wrong. Tikka’s older sister Lauren was to go with them, but somehow they miss each other at their agreed meeting point and a few days after they ran away, only 8-year-old Ruth turned up again. Dead. Returning home brings back all the memories of the weeks before the van Apfel girls’ disappearance.

Felicity McLean’s novel mixes different topics and genres. On the one hand, it is a coming-of-age novel, the girls all have to face the fact that adults can be evil and that sometimes are not to be trusted. On the other hand, it is also a mystery novel, you don’t know what really happened, if the girls might still be alive. And it is a study in how to live with the knowledge that behaving in a different way in a certain situation might have made a big difference.

As other reviewers have pointed out before, yes, while reading you have the impression of having read it before. There are certain parallels to other novels such as “The Suicide Sisters” and much of the plot has been treated in similar ways before. Yet, I liked to read it anyway especially because McLean manages to convincingly get the tone of eleven-year-old Tikka who is at times naive but always good-hearted and well-meaning. A perfect beach read that I thoroughly enjoyed.