Thoughts on Books (#27): THE FAMILY GAME • THE LAST PARTY • AT SUMMER’S END

The Family GameTHE FAMILY GAME by Catherine Steadman
My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

BOTM pick from December (’22)

THE FAMILY GAME was wildly entertaining! Harriet (who goes by Harry) was orphaned at age 11. Today, she’s a successful, newly published author who’s engaged to the man of her dreams. The one wrinkle is that Edward is estranged from his uber-wealthy, mysterious, old money family, and Harry hasn’t met them. Yet. When they do meet, it’s clear that the Holbecks want Harry to help bring Edward back into their fold. Edward’s intimidating father slips Harry a tape containing what sounds like a shocking confession, which gets her wrapped up in a deadly family game.

The first half of this book was a slow burn, but I was riveted. I loved watching Harry’s dive into this bizarre family’s world. The last part was crazy fast-paced and heart-pounding as Harry uncovers the disturbing secrets revealed on the tape. Yes, it was over the top, but so fun to read! I was left with a few unanswered questions, but overall it wrapped up with a satisfying conclusion. Highly recommended!


The Last Party (DC Morgan, #1)THE LAST PARTY by Clare Mackintosh
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a BOTM club pick for November (’22), and unfortunately it was a struggle for me to get through. It’s about two detectives investigating the murder of a has-been singer in Wales.

What I liked:
• The Welsh setting. I love reading about Wales, and I don’t come across many books set there (maybe I’m not looking hard enough!).
• The relationship between the two main characters, Ffion and Leo. They were two flawed and compelling characters, and I enjoyed their exchanges.

What I didn’t like:
• The story was very slow-paced with too much filler and too many time jumps.
• The victim was repugnant and I didn’t care why he was killed.
• There was a huge (HUGE!) cast of characters to keep straight, and most were unlikable or dull.

I’ve read and loved previous books by this author (I LET YOU GO is one of my all-time favorites), but THE LAST PARTY wasn’t for me.


At Summer's EndAT SUMMER’S END by Courtney Ellis
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Being a woman artist in the 1920s was far from easy. Bertie Preston is thrilled when an invitation arrives from the Earl of Wakeford, asking her to spend the summer painting at his estate, Castle Braemore. She’s surprised to find a family still suffering in the aftermath of WWI, especially the earl who fought in the war, and now remains isolated in his chambers. The family is also hiding painful secrets that Bertie will soon uncover.

I was drawn to this book by the nod to the Beauty and the Beast fairytale. Bertie is a unique and compelling character for the time, a woman wanting to live independently as an artist. AT SUMMER’S END is a beautifully written historical romance that brings post-WWI England to life.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

SUN DAMAGE by Sabine Durrant

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication Date: June 2, 2022
Source: Purchased from The Book Depository
Rating: ★★★★¼


The heat is intense.
The secrets are stifling.
She just needs to escape…

Nine guests arrive at a remote villa in the south of France.

They know each other well. Or think they do.

But at least one of them has plenty to hide — and nowhere to run.

Under the relentless sun, loyalties will be tested, secrets revealed, and tensions pushed to the point of no return.

I think the blurb for SUN DAMAGE is purposely vague, so I’m not going to say much about the plot. It’s set in the south of France, my favorite new thriller setting. Two con artists are working the beach resorts there, until things get a bit out of hand. And then…

Is summer gothic suspense a thing? Because that’s how I would describe this book. It’s an absorbing slow-burner with just the right amount of tension. I was really taken in by the rich descriptions of this place, like the yummy food, gorgeous scenery, and the stifling heat. The big twists at the end were brilliant.

THE SAFE PLACE by Anna Downes

Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: July 14, 2020
Source: Review copy from NetGalley
Rating: ★★★¾


In THE SAFE PLACE, main character Emily’s life is a wreck. She’s broke, unemployed, and days away from being kicked out of her apartment. So when Scott, her former boss, offers her a position as caretaker at his estate in the South of France, she simply can’t say no.

In theory, the job sounds like paradise, but in reality, Emily finds things a bit off. Scott’s odd wife and child live there permanently, isolated, and with strange rules for Emily to follow. No internet! Emily is soon convinced that something isn’t right with this seemingly perfect family…

This was a fast-paced and suspenseful thriller, set in a gorgeous, summery location. Poor Emily! She was so naïve, but I suppose she had to be for the set up of the story to happen. Her gullibility did frustrate me though, especially towards the end. The author created a good amount of tension as the story progressed, and I was surprised when the final big twist was revealed. I was convinced things were going in a different direction!

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

IN ANOTHER LIGHT by A. J. Banner

The death of a look-alike stranger leads a grieving woman down a troubling path in this riveting novel by A. J. Banner, bestselling author of The Poison Garden.

Three years ago mortuary cosmetologist Phoebe Glassman lost her husband in a tragic accident. No longer the hopeful wife and mother she once was, Phoebe is disappearing into her grief and into the quietude of her job — restoring to the dead the illusion of life. Then the body of a woman named Pauline Steele arrives in the mortuary, and for Phoebe, everything changes.

Pauline is unmistakably Phoebe’s mirror image and bears an alarmingly familiar tattoo. Even more startling is that among Pauline’s effects is a faded photograph of Phoebe. Aided by an eccentric colleague, her curiosity sparked, Phoebe investigates her doppelgänger’s life and death — and uncovers surprising clues to a shared past.

Phoebe’s emotional journey soon leads to shocking revelations about those closest to her…and even herself. When she’s driven to the brink, how much of what she discovers can she trust?

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: October 5, 2021
Source: Review copy from NetGalley

★★★★

What first drew me to this book was protagonist Phoebe Glassman’s job as a mortuary cosmetologist, someone who makes the decedent (new word for me!) look how they did in life. That’s something I could NOT do, but I find it fascinating. The funeral home where Phoebe works specializes in “green burials,” the eco-friendly alternative to traditional cemeteries, which is something else I’d recently discovered. Again, fascinating!

When the body of a woman looking exactly like Phoebe arrives at the mortuary, she ends up down a rabbit hole investigating this identical stranger’s past. This book is also about the heavy burden of her grief from losing her husband and daughter a few years earlier. IN ANOTHER LIGHT is a suspenseful mystery and journey of coming to terms with the past. It’s a very quick, engrossing, and emotional read.

Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE by Riley Sager

The New York Times best-selling author of Final Girls and Survive the Night is back with his most unexpected thriller yet.

Casey Fletcher, a recently widowed actress trying to escape a streak of bad press, has retreated to the peace and quiet of her family’s lake house in Vermont. Armed with a pair of binoculars and several bottles of liquor, she passes the time watching Tom and Katherine Royce, the glamorous couple who live in the house across the lake. They make for good viewing—a tech innovator, Tom is rich; and a former model, Katherine is gorgeous.

One day on the lake, Casey saves Katherine from drowning, and the two strike up a budding friendship. But the more they get to know each other—and the longer Casey watches—it becomes clear that Katherine and Tom’s marriage is not as perfect and placid as it appears. When Katherine suddenly vanishes, Casey becomes consumed with finding out what happened to her. In the process, she uncovers eerie, darker truths that turn a tale of voyeurism and suspicion into a story of guilt, obsession and how looks can be very deceiving.

With his trademark blend of sharp characters, psychological suspense, and gasp-worthy surprises, Riley Sager’s The House Across the Lake unveils more than one twist that will shock readers until the very last page.

Publisher: Dutton
Publication Date: June 21, 2022
Source: Borrowed from the library

★★★

This book made me think of The Woman in the Window and the Kristen Bell thriller parody on Netflix. The protagonist in Riley Sager’s latest is an alcoholic woman spying on her neighbors. The wife goes missing, and she decides to investigate.

I’m keeping this as vague as possible. There are a few fantastic twists in this book, but one of the big ones I had figured out very early on, then I was annoyed with myself for ruining the surprise. Ha.

I thought the pacing was a bit slow during the first half or so, then things got kind of wacky. THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE was entertaining for the most part, but it was no HOME BEFORE DARK. That one scared the crap out of me, and I loved every minute.

Do you have a Riley Sager favorite?