3 star

Review: Safe in My Arms by Sara Shepard

The latest novel from Sara Shepard, author of Reputation and the #1 New York Times bestselling Pretty Little Liars series. When the principal of an elite California preschool is attacked, three moms—who feel like outsiders among the school’s manicured and ultra-wealthy community—must work together to uncover what she’s hiding, figure out who’s trying to frame them, and make sure their own secrets stay hidden.

Andrea, Lauren, and Ronnie all see themselves as good, loving moms who are trying their best, but they each arrive at the Silver Swans preschool Welcome Breakfast with something to hide. Andrea is running away from a past on the East Coast, which she cannot afford for the other parents to discover. Lauren is recovering from a postpartum condition her husband has warned her not to disclose. And Ronnie is hiding herself and her daughter from the one man who could at any moment appear in their lives and ruin everything she holds dear. They already feel like impostors among the school’s community of polished parents. But then notes appear in their children’s backpacks after the first day at school. Notes that indicate that someone knows their deepest, darkest secrets and needs them gone. Does someone not want them in the community? Or is it something more menacing—does someone know everything?

When the principal of the school is the victim of an almost-fatal attack, it quickly becomes clear that the Silver Swans community is not as flawless as the brochures and website would have you believe. The three moms must band together to uncover the school’s many secrets before the other suspicious parents and town police close in and use their outsider status to blame them . . . and before they lose what they have worked so hard for. 



From the author of Pretty Little Liars comes this new thriller, set in a time not unlike our current pandemic. Filled with good themes and effective portrayal of different maternal struggles, this book fell short for me a bit in terms of the actual suspense and plot. Overall I did enjoy it though, and it was quite a quick read.

Safe in My Arms happens over multiple POVs, our three protagonists who are three mothers with young children enrolled at the prestigious Silver Swans pre-school. Each mother has their own secret that they’re harboring, something catastrophic that they don’t want to get out. Yet someone seems to be onto them. What will they do when they are backed into a corner? Are they willing to do anything to keep their secret hidden? A fast-paced suspense, this book takes us through an emotional journey of a mother’s struggles and how far they’re willing to go to protect themselves and their child.

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3.5 star, adult

Review: The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

You won’t want to leave. . . until you can’t.

Half-hidden by forest and overshadowed by threatening peaks, Le Sommet has always been a sinister place. Long plagued by troubling rumors, the former abandoned sanatorium has since been renovated into a five-star minimalist hotel.

An imposing, isolated getaway spot high up in the Swiss Alps is the last place Elin Warner wants to be. But Elin’s taken time off from her job as a detective, so when her estranged brother, Isaac, and his fiancée, Laure, invite her to celebrate their engagement at the hotel, Elin really has no reason not to accept.

Arriving in the midst of a threatening storm, Elin immediately feels on edge–there’s something about the hotel that makes her nervous. And when they wake the following morning to discover Laure is missing, Elin must trust her instincts if they hope to find her. With the storm closing off all access to the hotel, the longer Laure stays missing, the more the remaining guests start to panic.

Elin is under pressure to find Laure, but no one has realized yet that another woman has gone missing. And she’s the only one who could have warned them just how much danger they are all in. . .



This was another one of those books I just randomly picked off the (library) shelf based on the cover and synopsis alone. Ironically, neither of which I find incredible – I almost just returned it without reading it, since I didn’t feel the strong urge to read it. However, just before it was due, I decided to just race through it, and honestly I’m fairly satisfied that I did.

The Sanatorium takes place at a newly constructed building located in the Swiss Alps, once a sanatorium turned into a fancy hotel. Elin, our protagonist, is there to celebrate the engagement of her estranged brother. However, quickly things start taking a dark turn. People start going missing, the weather gets worse and worse, all poetically coming up to a big climax as the tensions continually increase.

Although the story revolves around our protagonist, the first portion of the novel actually takes us through a series of different perspectives. This I found to be a little bit distracting, as the novel quickly introduces us to more and more characters, making it a bit hard to focus on the main story. I think I remember maybe 3-4 storylines? I suppose part of the suspense is sometimes not being able to remember every part clearly, but it also takes away some of the tension and suspense that is built when it is too diverging.

The characters in this story were quite good and well-developed. People were consistent in their character and actions, and suspicions were easily cast around as new information came to light. This really helped captivate me in the story, as each character seemed like a reasonable suspect, and each had their secrets to hide. Being a little bit invested in each character is an important aspect of a novel to me, as it really helps bind the story together (e.g. not skipping parts about characters you don’t like), and I felt that that was pretty well done here.

The suspense in this story was well done, but nothing too dramatic. There was kind of an underlying tension and suspense that was growing throughout the story, but over all, each little arc of tension and resolution weren’t too heightened. Even at some of the most tense moments, I found that the resolution came fairly quickly, and perhaps I was let off the hook almost too easily. This is obviously just personal opinion, as to how much suspense “should” take place, but for me personally, I was expecting more from the resolution of the tension. I was often left thinking: oh that’s it?

Now for my biggest gripe: the ending. Yes, it was fairly unexpected and I didn’t totally see it coming. However, that didn’t mean it was quite satisfying either. Similar to our buddy review for Don’t Look For Me, where the ending was completely unexpected but also seemingly a little bit out of nowhere, I found the ending in this novel to not give me the satisfying “aha” moment. The best moments in these kinds of suspenses and mysteries are when you finally come to the realization of how everything has panned and played out, and how everything has come to lead up to this exact moment. Let’s just say that in this novel, there is an explanation yes, but it just all seemed like explanations for explanations, and covering up loopholes, as if everything was explained in hindsight, rather than being planned from the beginning. Does this make sense at all? All in all, this ending just really didn’t do it for me.

I would say overall I did enjoy the story though. The suspense was good, the characters were good, and there was good tension in general. The story and history woven in were good, and the general intrigue was well-executed – I enjoyed all the little details of how everything was put together. Perhaps I’m just a little bit too much of a stickler for the ending, if anyone else has read this, what did you think?

Overall Recommendations

The Sanatorium takes places in a beautifully constructed new 5-star hotel (once a sanatorium) in the Swiss Alps, where our protagonist, Elin, is visiting with her boyfriend to celebrate her estranged brother’s new engagement. While seemingly luxurious in its minimalistic design, more and more strange events begin to happen at the hotel: starting with the bride-to-be going missing. What exactly is going on here at this new hotel and who is behind it all? With the heavy storm incoming, how much danger exactly has Elin walked into? This novel had good characters and decent suspense throughout the whole novel, and I would recommend it to any mystery/thriller reader who likes to focus on those elements.

5 star, adult

Review: The Guest List by Lucy Foley

 

The bride ‧ The plus one ‧ The best man ‧ The wedding planner ‧ The bridesmaid ‧ The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why? 



Truth be told, I think I would give this 4.75 Drink Me Potions if we had such a rating. There were just a couple of things that aren’t explained, and feel a little bit off. That being said though, why give it a 5 star instead of a 4.5 star rating? Because I think there really is something special about this book. Thrillers and mysteries tend to follow more similar formatting, or at least you generally know how they will play out. In this sense, they tend to be a bit predictable (even if the final twist(s) are unpredictable). It becomes hard for me to then give super high ratings, because would I ever read a thriller/mystery twice? What book would be that good? So the caveat on this rating: it’s kind of my own special rating for thrillers in particular.

The Guest List is a mystery thriller set on a private island in Ireland. The bride and groom are our typical “perfect” couples – Jules is an online magazine editor, and Will is a rising TV star. All too soon we realize that (of course) there is more than meets the eye, as all their special esteemed guests arrive onto the island for their wedding. Seems like everyone might have a reason for not wishing the happy new couple well – what will transpire when all these guests are gathered and effectively stuck on this island?

This book stars the classic multiple POVs – something I know many are not too fond of. I would say that it wasn’t too confusing, although of course, as it is with these kinds of perspectives, it is often slower starting as you get used to the characters. That being said though, the author does a great job of immediately pulling us in. We start right at the scene of the crime, and we slowly get flashbacks from the day before leading up to the climax. Normally this would be fairly confusing too, with all the time skipping – but all the events take place the day before the wedding and the day of the wedding, so it isn’t too hard to orient yourself.

The characters are all well developed and hashed out. Each of them has their good points and character strengths, and are all human by nature of their vices. Each character has enough suspicion and possibly motive for committing murder, so it becomes difficult to tell who might be responsible for the body found, and who might have the most motive for murdering someone. The author gracefully develops each character with just the right amount of suspicion, so that we as readers can believe any of the characters to be a murderer.

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