The Look-Alike: A Novel by Erica Spindler



“Being around your mother, it’s like she infects you or something.”

One night, one horrific night on campus has followed Sienna Scott for ten years, the night she nearly tripped over the fresh corpse of a murdered young woman. This act of violence, the strange fact that they had both been wearing the same coat plants the seed that maybe it was she the killer was truly after! In the aftermath of the crime, her father believes she is making connections that aren’t there, that Sienna is fragile, like her mother who suffers from a delusional disorder. That her mother has passed on more than her looks to her daughter, that one particular cop (Randall “Randy” Clark) has been getting too close to Sienna and fueling her mad theory that she was the intended victim while trying to catch the killer. The only way to save her from a mental decline is to send her away to London, far away from her mother and the stink of the crime.

Ten years later, her father has been dead for five years, her half-brother left behind to watch over Sienna’s mother feeling resentment and fear that she is falling under her mother’s influence again, adamant still she was the intended victim. His life is crumbling too with his own relationship woes. Sienna longs to move on, to open a restaurant but her plans are being thwarted at every turn and everyone seems to have their own miserable secrets. It isn’t family trouble alone that is reviving the past, the murder case has been re-opened. Officer Randy is once again on the scene, the reason she was sent away to begin with! The cop her family feared was playing with her mind to benefit the investigation all those years ago but he was her friend, he made her feel safer. Her mother is far more frail than Sienna could have imagined, worse than when she left. Afraid of the police, armed with a gun, suspicious even of Sienna’s half-brother Brad and Sienna being home seems to be triggering her mother’s mental decline.

Across the street is the new neighbor Jonathan, renovating the place, a ‘house flipper’. Despite not knowing much about him, there is instant chemistry and desire but with the past haunting her, how does she know who she can trust? Being in his arms is the most exhilarated she has ever felt, maybe it is time to let him in, to finally open up about the torment her life has been since the murder, and to admit that it wasn’t so charmed before growing up with her mother’s illness. She’s had enough playing it safe, if she is meant to fall it may as well be in his arms.

Something is lurking though, and maybe her mother’s paranoia has some basis in reality, maybe Sienna isn’t slipping into a delusional state. But just who would want to kill her, and why?

This novel is just the right blend of mystery, thriller and romance for your winter reading.

Publication Date: January 28, 2019

St. Martin’s Press

The Better Liar: A Novel by Tanen Jones


She’d loved me, in her own disgusting, sharp-toothed way.

It is often said there is no relationship more fraught than the one between sisters at odds with each-other. In The Better Liar, a joint inheritance forces Leslie to find her little sister Robin Voigt.  Robin, who ran-away from home one night when she was just a teenager, leaving Leslie to always be the responsible daughter, tied to their dying father, forced to care for him to the bitter end. Sure, Robin dropped a line here and there when she needed saving from one jam or another, and daddy always came through, but she never earned a bit of his love and loyalty. Tracking her down in Las Vegas Leslie discovers she is too late, her drug addicted sister is dead, and now what? It’s just like Robin, to do this to her, as if she hasn’t already ruined her life. She isn’t going to see a penny of it now, where is the fairness in that, the inheritance was to be split between them both or no one gets their share, there is nothing she can do, right? Until… she sees Mary.

Mary looks so much like Robin. What if… what if Mary pretended to be Robin, just long enough to sign the paperwork, she can have Robin’s share and go off on her merry little way? Mary understands all too well the need for money, this is ‘the perfect job’, she wants to be an actress, how better to test her mettle than to pretend to be someone else? She is sick of working at the restaurant, and she has her own troubles to escape, it’s a way out of town. Leslie’s plan is wildly crazy, even if she does share a resemblance to the deceased, how could it work? True, Robin was never a part of Leslie’s adult life, never met her husband nor child and has been gone so long surely no one would know what she would have looked like now. Still, it’s a madcap plan, but likely will be a lot of fun and Mary is always one for fun. Leslie tries to keep just enough distance while letting Mary in on the sister’s shared past, there always seems to remain a little mystery and something isn’t right about her. Why does she need her half of the money, what is she hiding? She has quite the cozy life, a handsome, successful husband, beautiful son whom she doesn’t seem to want Mary (aka Robin) to be around. Why is she so unhappy? Is she involved in something, she doesn’t seem to be in financial trouble at all. Why is she lying? She may control the story of her past with Robin’s death, but Mary isn’t so easily led about. She is getting too close for Leslie’s comfort, and Leslie doesn’t owe her a thing beyond their agreed upon plan.

Robin’s fading, she’s nothing but a ghost now reminiscing about the relationship she had with her sister. Dear Leslie, who once used to care for her like a mother, since her own couldn’t be bothered. Was Robin really too much for people, as her sister seems to have believed, because Robin remembers things quite differently? As Leslie tells Mary things in order to help her become Robin, it doesn’t ring quite true. In fact, with this farce, who is the real schemer now? In her memories, Leslie wasn’t always the stand in mother she tells everyone she was, full of tender love and kindness. There were times she wanted Robin out of sight, when she was tired of caring for her little sister’s every need. She pushed her away first, with her cruelty, Robin well remembers it, there were reasons, things that made Robin’s heart hard. The way Leslie tells it the change in her sister’s temperament happened in junior high, suddenly she was hateful overnight, no rhyme nor reason. As soon as she got her own room she was mean and ugly, but there are two sides to every story, just which version is the truest? Robin loved to feed people stories, as much as she loved the attention she got from boys, even girls, and later men. There was a time she loved her big sister but she knows that Leslie isn’t the responsible, flawless person she portrays to the world. It reminds her of their damaged mother. She tells stories too. Ghosts are all seeing, and with her death, she is able to be more present than her choices in life allowed her to be before. She is now the held breath in the room, lurking in a sense.

Everyone is a liar, but who is The Better Liar?

A dark story about sisterhood and twisted loyalty. The biggest liar wins.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Random House













The Family Upstairs: A Novel by Lisa Jewell


I was a strange boy. I can see that now. I’ve since met boys like me: slow to smile, intense, guarded and watchful.

Lisa Jewell’s novels seem to be descending into darker territory and I absolutely love it! This is a novel about a sinister invasion, but it’s not demons or ghosts that will destroy the Lamb family. How could trying to make your wife happy be a bad thing? It will require changes, surely, but it isn’t outside Henry’s reach, it doesn’t require more than acceptance. By the end, both Martina and Henry will be dead from a suicide pact, according to police reports anyway. The two teenage Lamb children will be unaccounted for and the baby ( possibly 10 months old) the sole survivor among the dead.This baby girl, Libby Louise Jones has just turned 25 and is stunned to learn she is the sole owner of her biological parent’s mansion left to her in a trust,  ‘on the finest street in Chelsea’. This changes everything, no longer will she have to scrimp and save, nor make compromises in life, now- her adoptive mother tells her ‘you’ll be a very rich woman indeed.’ 

The house remembers what was and has been waiting, despite the years it’s been closed up, even if Libby was too young to absorb everything that led to that ill fated day in 1977, the traces remain like a haunt. The story begs to be told, and there are others who have been waiting for Libby too. One person in particular in another part of the world, and they know more than they can stomach, for they have been living their own nightmare, dealing in lies, subterfuge and know all too well the weight of identity. As she researches the chilling story of her own origins, she paints a terrifying picture, shocked to learn she had siblings  is the least of it the bigger jolt is that they seemed to vanish without a trace. Worse, there were more bodies, other missing children- what exactly was her biological family caught up in? This birthday gift is a trapdoor that will take her into a chilling past. Every answer comes with bigger questions. Why were they living in poverty? Her father Henry came from wealth, heir to his father’s money, so what went wrong? Who were these other people, why were they living in her parent’s home? What about the robes, were they a cult?

Without giving away the story, the sheer terror for children is the control, the power of the adult world. There are many ways mommy and daddy can fail their children, not every trauma comes from a raised fist. There are a million ways to neglect duty, the Lambs’ demise is in opening their home. Minds close, purses tighten, blindness sets in and their entire world shrinks within the walls of the gorgeous home.  There can only be one head of this family, naturally it will be the most charismatic force and it will be the collapse of them all.

As Libby unearths every skeleton of the past and attempts to assemble the remains of her family, every truth also contains the germ of a lie. Before the end, she will uncover the entire tale, and discover that the things she imagined all her life about her biological family pales in comparison to the twisted reality of just who they were.

I can’t wait for Lisa Jewell’s next novel. She writes of the fractures within’ families so perfectly, because often the things people do really come out of nowhere and leave you wondering if you knew them, and let’s face it sometimes yourself, at all.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019

Atria Books

The Pursuit: A Novel of Suspense by Joyce Carol Oates


Here is the mistake: to have given into happiness. She will be punished now.

Abby had hoped that becoming Mrs. Willem Zengler could save her, the damned, the cursed. Is it possible to cup happiness in both hands and drink from it? When she closes her eyes to sleep, it is always there, the bones, the horror. Love can’t chase that away, nor could protection. It always finds her, and the past won’t let her go. As a new bride she steps into traffic, maybe she was sleepwalking? She seemed so agitated! Witnesses saw something wasn’t right, her face one of horror, fear but of what? As if she were being chased.

Her husband Willem doesn’t understand, he must remain at her bedside in the ICU. What will he say if she wakes up? What if she strode into traffic by choice? What does any of this mean? He is gut sick, worse, he keeps playing back their meeting in his mind. The possibility that she has lied about her life disturbs him. This disorientation, it’s happened before, hasn’t it? He remembers too the restlessness, the whimpering cries while she was asleep, dreaming. He vowed to protect her, that is his role as her husband, but now as she lies comatose, the proof is he has failed her.

What of that parent-less past doesn’t he know? She doesn’t want to tell, she doesn’t want him to pursue her fears, her dream, her terror. She is both the victim and the perpetrator, in her memory. She carries an entourage of skeletons, she was so young, but it’s her fault, isn’t it? In order to be free, she must stop running from the nightmare. It is a ruined house, her entire childhood, a ruined house. She doesn’t want to be that orphan again with a tragic past, a past that is rotting somewhere, still undiscovered either in her mind or the tall grass, or both. What would Willem think?

She has been trying to keep herself together, to be the right sort of woman, but her happiness as a newlywed is blurring, the poison of her past is bleeding through and there isn’t an escape, not even in a handsome, tall husband. There is no shelter, no escape from the pursuit.

She is not who she professes to be, she is not fully present, and she can’t fake it anymore. Life always circles back, the past comes back for you, how like a ring.

This is a fairly short novel considering the many books I have devoted my days to reading by Oates. She has an intuition about the things we don’t talk about or present to the world, and writes about them like no other, so I am always delighted to read anything she puts to paper. This is a fast read, and you are in the confusion, the terror of Abby’s mind before the “accident” and tormented by the ghosts of her past as if you are in her shoes. It’s very much about the effects of trauma. How unfair, the things we’re forced to carry behind us, like a rotting corpse. Some childhoods aren’t about frolicking in the fields chasing butterflies, at least not in Oates world. Here children are left with blood on their hands.

Publication Date: October 11, 2019

Grove Atlantic

Mysterious Press

Dark Mother Earth: A Novel by Kristian Novak (Translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać)


When one person took their life, the disease was theirs alone. When four people took their lives, the whole village was afflicted.

Successful Croatian author Matija’s creativity, born out of a disconnect from the torment of his past, seems to have abandoned him. His third book is a failure, nothing is going right since Dina walked out of his life. A pit is opening inside of him, abandoning himself to the abyss he must confront the past he has buried in the dark mother earth of  the Croatian village of his childhood. Fear has been at the heart of his creations, his make believe life the safety net that has maintained his sanity, kept the demons of the past from pulling him back to the trauma he has repressed. He doesn’t even truly know what he has buried. Dina wants his memories, whether they expose his fragility or not, this is the meat of any solid relationship. How can love be real if you don’t share your childhood, the glory days and the goofy awkward stages? What if all you have is horror? How do you share memories you don’t even have? Some things are better left repressed. Some memories are wild animals, animals he left behind before he and his family moved away to Zagreb. But memories have a keen sense of smell and can track you down, no matter how many years pass in between.

Reaching back, further back it all began with the passing of Matija’s father when he was only six or maybe the rot seeped in because of the legend his grandmother told him. Something about the soil of that burial ground disturbs him, some sort of ‘staged’ feeling about his father’s funeral births mistrust of the villagers. This child’s disbelief in the face of loss, death is the seed that germinates into abandonment of reality. Grief gets tangled into stories about the will-o-the-wisp folk, and what is real for a child? What about the world is solid when you are still trying to wrap your mind around all the big and small  nagging questions of the world? What happens when the village starts watching you because they think you are different, a ‘troubled’ child? What happens when you start to see things, know things maybe even become the catalyst for tragedies, and realize that they could be right about you? What’s a boy to do when the brutal dark ‘things’ visit him, as if summoned by his need?

This novel is a strange type of horror story whose engine is revved all because of Matija’s love for Dina. Everything rises to the surface, you must face the dark earth of your origins in order to have a chance at love. The past always comes back for us. For Matija  the things left unexplained have soured his thoughts, a curious, intelligent, creative little boy left to makes sense of the wounds of losing his father. He never really recovered from that first loss, and everything that followed; the suicides, the terrible things people hide from each other in any village or town haunts him so much that any fabrication is better than facing everything he knew. He doesn’t understand his father’s death and his mom and sister are so swamped in grief they don’t know how damaging keeping him in the dark will become. His strange drawings don’t help, he feeds the villagers fear of him, he can’t seem to help it. He is fated to be an outcast, every village needs one, it makes it so much easier to avoid the real horror, within ourselves and each other. Collectively, these people are suspicious and distrusting of anything different, they can overlook the ugliness in those nearest and dearest so long as the person seems admirable, clean..etc. The horror is in that.  War is looming, at least that is something solid to fear and maybe they can turn their hate there.

There is an eeriness in what Matija starts seeing, and the overwhelming horror of fantasy that becomes a threat for others near him, which at the heart really comes from a place of love and grief to have his dad come back from the dead. The scariest moment is in his fervent, childish hope by the water with his friend. His mother just wants him to act like a normal boy, because behaving like his ‘natural’ self carries the threat of being taken away. He learns early on how to betray himself, and in turn, how to betray others in order to ‘fit in’. It’s hard to blame his actions, who doesn’t want to feel accepted somewhere, especially when you’re young and have been on the outside for so long? Sadly, it’s one of the biggest mistakes of his life, some things can’t be fixed. Is he the disease in the midst? Is he really to blame as people begin to take their own lives?

“Things you’ve forgotten bide their time. They keep an eye on you, poke each other in the ribs, and snicker softly so as not to disturb the sanctity of the delusion. They only start getting louder when you begin to stagnate, when there’s no forward movement and that’s when they go after you, seething because you’ve forbidden them from coexisting with all the new things you neatly pack into the storage unit known as your life.” 

We are the horror. It’s a solid novel, it put me in a strange place. We forget how fear can consume young minds and how destructive fantasy can be. What a sad tale.

Publication Date: January 14, 2020

Amazon Crossing

The Doll Factory: A Novel by Elizabeth Macneal



Her eyes, sockets slightly hollowed, contained a loneliness and longing that felt at once familiar. It was as if an invisible cord united them.

Iris Whittle wants freedom, not to endure her sister Rose’s jealousy ‘until, at last, some scrawny boy fattens her with child after child’, slaving over laundry, cooking ‘rotten offal’ and  tending infants ‘mewling with scarlatina and influenza and God knows what else’. Iris and her twin sister Rose apprenticed at Mrs. Salter’s Doll Emporium, spends her day painting the delicate dolls faces, a ‘drudgery’- a dark skill at times painting custom dolls  from daguerreotypes of children, who may or may not be dead, ‘commemorative dolls’. She wants a way out of her life, but with a sick twin sister who relies on her, is marriage the only way? Youth and beauty is currency, but her passion is art, sketching since she was a child.

As The Great Exhibition “of the works of industry of all nations” is to be held in the Crystal Palace now being built in Hyde Park, London- it’s promise is calling out to Iris. It is a world for artists like herself  and what is more thrilling to someone whose life is nothing but toil, feeling like slavery? Then there is Silas and his specimens of the dead, his taxidermy shop, with aspirations for a museum, where he can share his world with the masses. If he could perfect preservation, freeze moments in time, rid the stench and rot of death…if only he could have better specimens, a thing so marvelous that others would be mesmerized, why then he would be someone! It’s never enough, these paltry commissions, not for a man of his ambitions! The average man has no idea the skill, the genius his creations require, no. It takes a discerning eye to appreciate the beauty, the art! These specimens are about life! Why do others only see the macabre?  At least he has ‘street brat’ Albie to scavenge for curiosities! It’s nothing for Albie using a hemp sack as his “Dead Creatures bag”, anything to make a shilling, a boy has gotta survive these mean London streets, even if you peddle death.

The 1850’s London our characters are living in is a far cry from the upper crust Victorian delicacy we think of- the fashion, the fine sensibilities, in The Doll Factory we have an atmospheric England with it’s more offensive smells and underbelly, the dark side of all those gentleman and their baser urges. Albie and others of his ilk turn to crime with limited choices, either pickpockets or prostitutes- their brutal worlds, never dreaming of the sheltered lives of children born to finer families. This is the darkest part of the novel, thinking of children up to their eyes in filth and the scum of the times. We love to look away from the ugly reality of the past, it’s hard to stomach, imagine living it. I’m the type watching Pride and Prejudice and thinking ‘wow, I wonder how awful the lives of the people serving the main characters were’, thinking ‘oh yeah, my luck I’d be the peasant, no time to pine after Darcy’. Not that I don’t love Jane Austen, I just think Victorian Times were more about the spread of infectious diseases like smallpox…syphilis… consumption- ah the past.

Back to the novel… it is through Albie that Silas has a most fortunate encounter with the beautiful Iris, honing in on an unusual part of her, awakening his obsession. Fate for some can be a dark shadow hovering, waiting for fulfillment. For Iris, it is her meeting with Lois Frost that is full of meaning, part of the PRB (Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), a man who trained at the Royal Academy and feels she would be the perfect model for him. A boon, he will pay her too! She sees this fine bit of luck as the the opportunity to learn how to paint under his tutelage, if he agrees it will seal the deal, her reservations be damned. There are more brave choices for her to make, sacrifices to earn that precious freedom to live as she wants, it could cost her not just her reputation but her family- but she can taste that other life, it’s so close. The threat of ruin isn’t enough to force her to change her course!

There is a thin veil between the present day and dreams for Silas as Iris has been sewn into the very fabric of his future. She longs to be Lois’s treasure, not imagining that she is already one man’s curiosity, the means to fulfillment- who says his visions are mad? Silas is biding his time, losing his grip on reality as each day ticks by. He wants to be taken seriously, he knows in time the world will see him as successful, fine gentleman! One day his work will pay off, then everyone who ever insulted him will be sorry. He is a man struggling with his obsessive desire, disgusted by others vices, while obsessing over Iris, watching, learning everything about her, more familiar with her habits than she herself is. The watching, lurking, waiting- this is how some men are forced to commune, to touch what they desire.

Obsession is shackles of the mind, much like ones used to keep someone in captivity. Silas is a tormented man, one who doesn’t take rejection lightly. She must she let him love her! He just needs her to accept his loyal friendship. She will be that someone who understands, accepts his world, his passion.

Everything is spiraling but that invisible cord, it connects them and everyone who stands between them.

Yes, read it if you enjoy dark historical fiction, and the underbelly of Victorian London. There is a stink of death clinging to the pages, the mad desperation of the lonely and the deception of our own minds.

Publication Date: August 13, 2019

Atria Books





Never Have I Ever: A Novel by Joshilyn Jackson


She smiled, and I had no premonition as I smiled back. She didn’t look like my own destruction to me. She looked… the word was “cool”. 

“Cool” is hard to find once your life is consumed by mothering, or heck, even just “adulting” -mothers aren’t the only ones who lose excitement. When Angelica Roux crashes Char’s book club arriving at Amy Whey’s house, where it’s being hosted, they’ve let it their destruction. It’s not just her beauty that unravels the women, “I could feel her charisma like it was a wind she’d set loose in the room, pushing us all forward in our seats”, it is her very presence, her energy. It is as if she is a mesmerist! Charlotte catches on fast seeing that Roux has ‘hijacked’ the evening, she knows how to bait the women into revealing themselves, loosening their inhibitions and all within minutes of her arrival. Wine bottle after wine bottle, damn but it feels good to let yourself go, when you spend so much time living like ‘domesticated animals.’ Their book club is normally just a spot of stolen time, but it’s never been this exciting!

When it’s Amy’s turn to play,  terror invades her very insides as Roux has “cracked open the past”, and Amy’s past is ugly.  Roux has her right where she wants her, and it could blow her happy little family, and home to the wind. How can she keep a brave face with her beloved husband, maintain normalcy caring for their little boy Oliver when threats are looming. Luca (Roux’s son) has taken a fancy to Amy’s Stepdaughter Madison, just one more entanglement. One mistake Amy made in her past ripped a hole in the world, and you can’t just patch something this big, the skeletons will find you. “If she owned my past, then she owned me with it.” Who is Roux really, it’s a game of cat and mouse, even the reader isn’t sure what is happening and that is why this dark novel works so well!

The flashes into the past beg the question, what is culpability? How much punishment, ownership evens the score? Is it even possible to even a score? Roux forces all the horrific pain and memories to return, things Amy had buried to maintain her sanity, to escape the weight of her guilt, to move on in order to live again. It’s not just Amy pulled into her web. Other women will be hurt too. Some horror stories don’t involve ghosts or monsters, but mistakes made in our youth. It’s too easy, for someone like Roux, to collect currency through secrets, revelations. Yet, who is Roux to manipulate and avenge the past? To use the present to bring others down to her level. Can Amy beat her at her own game? Someone with much more money and resources? Does she have secrets of her own that could turn the game in Amy’s favor? Doesn’t everyone have a past?

This is a thriller, true, but somehow it pulls off tenderly heartbreaking moments, reminding us how vulnerable we have been, are still. As for villainy, sometimes it’s a matter of the circumstances. One split second can make a monster out of us all, despite our intentions. I won’t give anything away, read it! It’s engaging and just the side of dark I like.

Publication Date: July 30, 2019

William Morrow