The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes by Diane Chamberlain

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 38. Don’t judge a book by its cover!

Other Possible Prompts: 29. Over 500 pages long (some versions), 41. Involves a second chance

Okay so, I was very skeptical of this one at first, but I’m super glad I read it. And honestly, as the prompt implies, I probably would’ve been more likely to pick it up if it had the cover to the right and not the old, paperback version I had in my hands. This one looks more thriller-like, which is sort of how I would describe this novel, versus the more literary fiction style cover of my copy.

This novel is hard to explain without ruining it! I’m going to keep it as general as possible, but just trust me when I say the intrigue and the twists are what will keep you reading! I think even the Amazon description of the book goes too far.

When CeeCee Wilkes was sixteen, she met a boy: Timothy Gleason, who captivated her and convinced her to do something that would haunt her forever. Now, thirty years later, Tim is being charged with the murder of Genevieve Russell, the woman he kidnapped, and her unborn child. But what CeeCee knows has the power to exonerate him, because no one killed Genevieve…and no one killed her daugther.

My boss and I frequently discuss books because we’re both readers, and we’re regularly trading novels. She said I absolutely had to read this one…and normally, these aren’t my style. I just had a feeling I wasn’t going to like Diane Chamberlain’s writing. And while I’m not sure I’d read another of hers, I am glad I read this one. It wasn’t what I expected from her and I didn’t find it preachy or even bad, and I definitely jibed with it – so it wasn’t that bad. This novel falls into more of a thriller crossed with a family drama, as opposed to the purely family drama I was expecting from Chamberlain.

My boss also told me not to read the description of the book, and not to read the first chapter until you finish the book. This is kind of why I’m hesitant to tell you much about the novel in the description, and I’d have to agree with her advice after having done it this way. She said it unfolds more like a winding mystery if you don’t. While it bothered my OCD a tad, I did give this a try (sort of). I just didn’t pay as much attention in the first chapter, so it didn’t actually make a big difference. I was more shocked and awed by the twists and turns of this book for having done this!

This one was just unexpectedly enjoyable for me. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be; while I thought it would be a family drama, the thriller aspect was a surprise. Even the family drama, which I would never pick up on my own, was captivating and interesting as it was told across many years, and you got to see each and every character grow up throughout the story.

And I actually loved all the characters. Except for the obviously awful ones, like Ken, most of them had redeeming qualities but were extremely human, so while they erred or did things I disapproved of, I couldn’t help but love them and want the best for them by the conclusion of the story. They’re by no means perfect, but they’re all likeable. They’re all people, written really, really well.

I think part of what makes that so interesting and important to note is that many of them have done horrible things. A lot of them have motives that make them do bad things, or they did bad things but they’re trying to move forward…the story forces you to grapple with the idea of what makes a person “a good person”, and just how much you’re willing to allow or forgive when they’re trying to move forward. I really liked this element and I think it’s the heart of what makes the story so captivating. What earns forgiveness?

So yeah, I definitely liked this more than expected. I never pick this stuff up so I was surprised I devoured it so quickly (I think this took me less than twenty four hours in total, even working a full day). I would definitely recommend it for a good mystery, but with some depth.

Have a wonderful week friends! 🙂

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 15. A five-syllable title

Other Possible Prompts: 25. A wealthy character

I’m on a thriller kick lately! I’ve actually been knocking out a lot of my boss’ book recommendations, which included The Couple Next Door. I finally got around to things she told me to read months ago… so without further ado, welcome to your March bonus review. 😉

Anne and Marco Conti make a quick decision one evening to leave their sleeping baby home next door while they attend a neighbors’ dinner party, checking on her routinely until they leave at just after one in the morning. When they return, their six-month-old daughter, Cora, is gone.

The call to the police launches an investigation into her kidnapping that begins to unravel a carefully threaded web of lies, twists, and turns that will keep you guessing until the very, very end.

This is another one of those stories where I’m PETRIFIED that just telling you what the book is about is going to ruin the whole thing. Because it’s like a well of crazy, all the way down.

The perspective of this novel alternates back and forth primarily between Anne, Marcus, and Detective Rasbach, the lead detective on the case – with some other characters interspersed. You’d think, being in the head of just about every character, you may know more about where the story is going…but Lapena keeps it well hidden until she’s ready to reveal each individual detail. Every time something new came to light I gasped a little, thinking that must be where the ~wildness~ ended, and it never was.

One thing that annoyed me from the very beginning about the turn of events is that the detective immediately suspects Anne and Marcus of wrongdoing, and carries out his entire investigation as if they are at fault. He narrates that this is usually the case, that the child is likely already dead, that the parents likely have a hand in it…but it just didn’t sit right with me, even until the very end. It didn’t make me dislike the story, though, and it’s a necessary element of the plot – but it is certainly depressing. It just made me think.

I can’t tell you *which* characters I disliked, because it’ll ruin it for you, but I think the moral judgments of this cast of characters is really intriguing. I think it’s one of the strong points of the novel, similar to Diane Chamberlain’s The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes (keep your eyes peeled for that review at the end of April). Like, some of these characters did some dumb stuff, even borderline horrible stuff, but is it enough to make you hate them? Enough to make you want to see them suffer some consequences? It’s kind of an odd book that might have you changing your mind to the very last page on that front, truthfully.

I’ve decided not to try and fit this one into a prompt for the moment, which is why I only listed possible prompt suggestions. I did finish it in 2022…in fact, I finished it yesterday…but I’ve already filled my two prompt suggestions, so I might only go back and fill it in for 48. Redo one of this year’s prompts but with a different genre if I have to. I’m sticking it on the back burner for now!

I definitely recommend The Couple Next Door, though I apparently don’t have a ton to say about the book! I’m trying to think of some other comments I have, but coming up empty handed. I kind of want to read Not a Happy Family now, and might pick it up at the library next week.

Have an awesome week, peeps!

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This book took me by surprise. Mexican Gothic drew a lot of attention when it first released, I believe, because it was a choice for Book of the Month. I grabbed a copy then, but it’s just been sitting on my shelf (my recent theme is kicking my TBR’s ass…oh, waiting on me to read you for several years, have you? *Cracks spine*) . My friend read it last year and didn’t care for it, but told me I would probably like it. She was correct: this is good stuff friends.

Noemí Taboada is a strong willed socialite. After her cousin Catalina sends a confusing and concerning letter to her father, Noemí is forced to leave behind her life of parties in Mexico City for High Place, to check on Catalina. There, she finds an intriguing cast of characters in her in-laws, the Doyles, a long forgotten wealthy family of mine owners, and their home surrounded in silver and rot.

It doesn’t take long for things to start going awry. Catalina’s behavior is far more concerning in person. The Doyles have many rules, and won’t seek the proper medical attention for Noemí’s cousin. And Noemi has begun to sleep walk again…something is wrong at High Place, and Noemí would die to find out what it is.

I had a lot of expectations for this book just based on what people had *told* me it was about, but it blew them out of the water. My biggest expectation was that it would be along the lines of a Shirley Jackson novel. Anyone that regularly reads my blog sees me compare things to Shirley Jackson, or preach my love for her, on a fairly regular basis. She’s a genius and a visionary, not appreciated in her own time. While Moreno-Garcia’s writing did have a similar tone and darkness to it, I think what was most missing from my expectation was the ambiguousness. Jackson tends to leave a lot up to the imagination. Moreno-Garcia, in contrast, wrote with rich and colorful detail, so much so that I could practically see High Place in my mind. I could picture the characters, their quirks, everything in striking color. Which is good, because it seriously adds to this book to have all that.

The story within this novel is wild and fanciful. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting; it kept me guessing right up to those very last chapters. I don’t want to give too much of it away, but it was so delightfully creepy and horrifying, and all the characters so perfectly malicious. This is the exact kind of horror I love to read, that requires that extra level of depth and thought.

I discovered, upon gathering my photo for this post, that THIS BOOK IS GOING TO BE A HULU SHOW!!! If done well, it’s going to be truly incredible to watch on screen. I think of it akin to The Haunting of Hill House show… if a good troupe of actors plays these incredible characters, it should be an absolute delight. They truly made the story, and I think any good visual representation of it will require some damn good acting.

Since it took me so long to pick this one up, I’m dying to know…have you read Mexican Gothic? What were your thoughts? Did you love the story, or get bogged down in the details? My friend felt personally that the writing style was too similar to Jackson, and because she didn’t care much for Jackson, she had to drag her way through it.

Overall, if your tastes are anything like mine, I highly recommend Mexican Gothic. Grab a copy. Seriously!

I hope you all have an amazing week as we head into fall!