The Manor House by Author: Gilly Macmillan

The Manor House by Author: Gilly Macmillan
(Narrators: Ethan Reid, Nathalie Buscombe, Clare Corbett, Fenella Woogler, Josh Dylan, Ben Allen, Sian Thomas)
Publisher: Harper Audio
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Be careful what you wish for…

Childhood sweethearts Nicole and Tom are a normal, loving couple—until a massive lottery win changes their lives overnight.

Soon they’ve moved into a custom-built state-of-the-art Glass Barn on the stunning grounds of Lancaut Manor in Gloucestershire. They have fancy cars, expensive hobbies, and an exclusive lifestyle they never could have imagined.

But this dream world quickly turns into a nightmare when Tom is found dead in the swimming pool. Was Tom’s death a tragic accident, or was it something worse?

Nicole is devastated. Tom was her rock. And their beautiful barn —with all its smart features that never seem to work for her—is beginning to feel very lonely. But she’s not entirely by herself out there in the country. There’s a nice young couple who live in the Manor itself along with their middle-aged housekeeper who has the Coach House. And an old friend of Tom’s from school has turned up to help her get through her grief.

But big money can bring big problems and big threats. And is Nicole’s life in danger as well?

Nicole’s beginning to feel like a little fish in a big glass bowl.

Surrounded by piranhas.

Nicole and Tom thought that their lives were perfect. They’d won the lottery and had moved into a beautiful home of their own design. The neighbors seemed pleasant, and all was looking up for them. And then Tom turns up dead. What will become of Nicole now that her soulmate is gone?

There are a lot of points of view in this book. Nicole, the widow, Ollie and Sasha, the neighbors, Kitty, the housekeeper, Anna, via a journal, and Hal and Jen, the police officers. You even get Tom’s perspective the morning of his death, which was probably my favorite of all the views we got. Nicole was another favorite character of mine, seeing everything unfold in front of her while she’s dealing with her grief was both exciting and heartbreaking.

I chose the audio version of this novel and was happy with the narration. There are different narrators for each point of view, which makes it easier for me to follow the story. Each narrator brought their character to life, giving them a distinctive perspective and voice. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I honestly prefer those with more than one narrator, and this is the reason why. It feels more like an audio production than simply someone reading a novel to you.

I’ve read a couple of books by this author and have enjoyed them both. However, The Manor House exceeded expectations by a long shot. There are several red herrings weaved into the story, things that had me pointing my finger at a suspect, only to be surprised later. As with all thrillers, there are a couple of unexpected twists that caught me by surprise. The ending left me both satisfied and unhappy at the same time. Overall, it’s still the best book of hers that I’ve read to date and makes me eager to pick up more by her.

Anywhere You Run by Wanda M. Morris, Narrators: Janina Edwards, Shayna Small and Adam Lazarre-White

Anywhere You Run by Wanda M. Morris, Narrators: Janina Edwards, Shayna Small and Adam Lazarre-White
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Audio)
Genre: Historical, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Ginger

It’s the summer of 1964 and three innocent men are brutally murdered for trying to help Black Mississippians secure the right to vote. Against this backdrop, twenty-one year old Violet Richards finds herself in more trouble than she’s ever been in her life. Suffering a brutal attack of her own, she kills the man responsible. But with the color of Violet’s skin, there is no way she can escape Jim Crow justice in Jackson, Mississippi. Before anyone can find the body or finger her as the killer, she decides to run. With the help of her white beau, Violet escapes. But desperation and fear leads her to hide out in the small rural town of Chillicothe, Georgia, unaware that danger may be closer than she thinks.

Back in Jackson, Marigold, Violet’s older sister, has dreams of attending law school. Working for the Mississippi Summer Project, she has been trying to use her smarts to further the cause of the Black vote. But Marigold is in a different kind of trouble: she’s pregnant and unmarried. After news of the murder brings the police to her door, Marigold sees no choice but to flee Jackson too. She heads North seeking the promise of a better life and no more segregation. But has she made a terrible choice that threatens her life and that of her unborn child?

Two sisters on the run—one from the law, the other from social shame. What they don’t realize is that there’s a man hot on their trail. This man has his own brand of dark secrets and a disturbing motive for finding the sisters that is unknown to everyone but him . . .

The sign of a good book is when you hate to get to the end because you will have to let the characters go or you are left with an emotional tie well after you have finished reading. “Anywhere You Run” is a historical suspense with in-depth characters that I got to know very well after approximately ten hours of audio play. Readers will start off knowing whodunnit but will be propelled to keep reading to know how the events unfold.

The author effortlessly delivers an enhancing reading experience that is told through alternating points-of-view. Several events set the tone in the beginning of the book. Three Civil Rights Activist (two white, one black) are killed by locals near Jackson, Mississippi and also around that time Violet Richards is raped by Huxley Broadus. Two strong sisters, Marigold (whos is 22 years of age — she’s the smart one with dreams of going to college to become a lawyer), and Violet (a year younger — she is the pretty one that makes fast decisions and does not have any dreams). While different, they are strong and determined women each with their own problems.

The author delivers a good idea of what life was like as a black woman in the South during the 60’s. The author kept history as it was including language fitting during the Jim Crow era. Violet sees the opportunity that Dewey Leonard offers to make her escape from Jackson after she kills Huxley. After Marigold confronts the father of her child and he wants nothing to do with her she settles for the proposal from her longtime admirer Roger Bonny. Both women are on the run, but can they truly escape what they are running from?

This is a masterfully scripted well paced story, and the author adds to the intensity when Mercer Buggs takes on the job of hunting down Violet. The characters and suspense of the chase kept the plot progressing. I wanted Marigold and Violet (Vera) to win, to find happiness, to turn their tragedy to triumph, for the sisters to heal and see redemption but there were so many dangers ahead of them. I loved the relationship between Marigold and Violet, they did not judge each other for their mistakes or faults, in fact each spoke highly of the other sister.

A story of loss, heartbreak but also bonds are made stronger. In a story like this I wasn’t sure how Marigold and Violet’s stories would end; I could only hope for a happy ending. No spoilers but I will confess I did not like the ending at first, but then I thought maybe in a funny way the author gave some accountability to everyone for all the wrongs that were done.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook. There is something about the author’s writing, the audio’s narration, the story in itself that I found incredibly gripping and wonderfully structured. If I could pick one word to sum up my thoughts, it would be resilience. The flower sisters, Marigold and Violet successfully withstood a difficult and challenging early life experience. I have a new favorite author and I will definitely look forward to reading more of her work. A highly recommend read for those that enjoy historical details told in a serious tone along with emotional subject matter surrounding the strength of sisters.

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam
Publisher: HarperAudio
Genre: Non-fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

Rehana Haque, a young widow, blissfully prepares for the party she will host for her son and daughter. But this is 1971 in East Pakistan, and change is in the air.
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Set against the backdrop of the Bangladesh War of Independence, A Golden Age is a story of passion and revolution; of hope, faith, and unexpected heroism in the midst of chaos—and of one woman’s heartbreaking struggle to keep her family safe.

This is an action-packed story of one family’s experience during the Bangladesh War of Independence from Pakistan. As events unfold, we get a personal understanding of the war’s effects on everyday people.

Rehana Haque is a widow with two children who just wants to live a good life with her children. When they become young adults, trouble starts because Rehana’s children get involved with the war. Of course this creates much trouble and worrying for Rehana. She gets surprises such as when a former Pakistani army officer turned freedom fighter becomes injured and is brought to Rehana for nursing. She is concerned. This is so dangerous.

Themes such as how women get along during wartime, a love of one’s country, and motherhood underlie every page. It is a serious story but is entertaining and engaging. This is the first of a trilogy but can be read by itself. I recommend this book for anyone who likes history or learning about other cultures.

Wicked Bite by Jeaniene Frost

Wicked Bite by Jeaniene Frost
A Night Rebel novel
Publisher: Harper Audio/Avon
Genre: Contemporary, Romance, Paranormal
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Some promises are meant to be broken…

Veritas spent most of her life as a vampire Law Guardian. Now, she’s about to break every rule by secretly hunting down the dark souls that were freed in order to save Ian. But the risks are high. For if she gets caught, she could lose her job. And catching the sinister creatures might cost Veritas her own life.

Some vows are forever…
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Ian’s memories might be fragmented, but this master vampire isn’t about to be left behind by the woman who entranced him, bound herself to him, and then disappeared. So what if demons, other Law Guardians, and dangerous, otherworldly forces stand against them? Come hell or high water, Ian intends to remind Veritas of the burning passion between them, because she is the only person seared on his mind—and his soul…

This story ended way too fast, yet it was just right. It solved a problem that has been plaguing Ian for quite some time, and it showed me that Veritas is much, much more than the valiant Law Guardian from past books in the series. In fact, the secrets that Veritas holds are just as exciting and amazing as the plot itself.

I read this book via the audio version, so it took about 8 hours and 54 minutes, but for readers of paperback/print, this 384 page dynamo should take much less time than that. All I know is, I read/listened to it in one day. Yes, that is a long time to walk around with headphones, but just like the print books, I couldn’t stop. Every chapter left me with “More, more!” and “Now what?” or my favorite, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” – that said when a chapter ended with a shocking or surprising cliff hanger that totally caught me off guard. This book was AWESOME!!

Since I read this via audio, I’d like to take a moment to commend the publisher or author; I’m not sure who decides these things, but whoever it is, on their choice for narrator, Tavia Gilbert. The choice is genius. I’ve listened to a few other narrators now, enough to be able to say that Ms. Gilbert is a high classed narrator. She portrays each character with clear and distinct voices and personalities. Let me tell you, that cannot be not easy because there are so many characters in the world Ms. Frost has built, from Vlad, to Crispin, to Ian, and Mencheres as well as the hero and heroine of Wicked Bite, Ian and Veritas. Frankly, I’m stunned at the variety. The narrator’s vocal range is impressive and brings the audio version to life much better than anything I’ve read in my own head. I enjoyed the book but listening to it is like going to see a play blindfolded.

The only thing I’m not a fan of, in any fiction genre, is the playing fast and loose with the ideas of demons and souls. In this book, even though it’s totally fictionalized for the story, and I understand that, I have a different opinion that does not allow me to take the subjects lightly. With all that being said, I’m still giving this book a high rating because the writing, plot, flow and pace of the story, the dialogue, the relationship between the characters and the ability to keep surprising me, are all elements that earn those five stars. I laughed out loud, I gasped … basically this story made me care what happens to the characters. That’s the kind of writing that makes a book stand out – it affects my emotions as I read and I want to keep reading.

The love between Ian and Veritas is finally clarified and I am a happy reader. Theirs is an unconventional romance with the most unusual internal conflicts. Let me narrow that down a bit, Ian is so confident in himself, I don’t think he even experiences internal doubts at all. It’s Veritas that does and once the reason is disclosed, I believe the heroine has enough angst for the both of them.

I could go on and on because there are a lot of shenanigans going on in this novel as well as so many other reasons to encourage other readers to check this book out. Half the fun are the surprise elements woven throughout the story and I in no way want to dilute that for anyone. If you are a fan of this series and you haven’t read this yet, you’re in for a treat. If you are new, this possibly could be read as a standalone because it focuses only on Ian and Veritas’s fight to survive and how they solidify their love amidst the terrible challenges they face. Wicked Bite is well worth every minute reading. It’s an easy recommend.

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan

The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks/Harper Audio
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (464 pages/audio 9 hours 34 minutes)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Cholla

Zoe Maisey is a seventeen-year-old musical prodigy with a genius IQ. Three years ago, she was involved in a tragic incident that left three classmates dead. She served her time, and now her mother, Maria, is resolved to keep that devastating fact tucked far away from their new beginning, hiding the past even from her new husband and demanding Zoe do the same.

Tonight Zoe is giving a recital that Maria has been planning for months. It needs to be the performance of her life. But instead, by the end of the evening, Maria is dead.

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It’s not often you get a chance at a fresh start and that’s why Zoe Maisey is doing everything she can to be the perfect girl. She doesn’t want to be the one who destroys the second chance family after all. But what do you do when your past catches up to you?

Zoe was definitely my favorite character. She made a horrible mistake – one that cost three teens their lives – but she was young and I honestly think she was drugged or given alcohol she wasn’t aware of drinking. Despite all that, she really does feel guilty and has made solid efforts to become a better person. She knows that, even if she’s not at fault, she’s going to always be the first suspect due to her history.

The others didn’t make as much of an impression on me. Sam seemed to be a bit of an afterthought as he never really gets involved in Maria’s death. Tess isn’t too bad and I did like her more as we moved through the story, but she does make some questionable choices. Lucas’ relationship with Zoe is better than most step-siblings. You know he’s been through some tough things with how well he and Zoe get along, and it’s great that they had the support of the other in this. Chris bugged me from the very beginning, but I think a lot of that had to do with the way Maria was constantly micromanaging Zoe so that Chris wasn’t put out.

The idea of a second chance family – one where everyone gets a fresh start – is a good one. Maria and Zoe want to move past Zoe’s accident. Chris and Lucas want to move on from the death of Lucas’ mom. But what wasn’t great was Maria’s pushing Zoe to hide everything and maintain this ideal of the perfect family. Families aren’t perfect. Even the best ones are messy at times.

While I’m not generally a fan of novels told in the first person point of view, in an audiobook it seems to work better for me. Although, I did find myself talking back to the car stereo more often but I’m not sure if that’s because of the characters or the POV. The male narrator, Dugald Bruce-Lockhart, had a soothing, pleasant voice and the way he voiced both Sam and Lucas was enjoyable. The female narrator, Penelope Rawlins, however, did a much better job of making you think that there were two separate narrators. It actually took me several alternating points of view before I realized there was one person for both Zoe and her aunt, Tess.

The Perfect Girl is an engaging story full of hidden secrets and lies of omission. Although it has a bit of a slow start, once the author gets the ball rolling, it doesn’t stop until the end. The ending was a bit of a cliché, but for once, I fully agreed with its use. Seemed like the perfect way to end it, in my opinion. I’ll be anxious to check out other books by this author soon.