Monica’s Musings: End of Story

End of Story by A.J. Finn

I’ll be dead in three months. Come tell my story.
― A.J. Finn, End of Story

Summary: So writes Sebastian Trapp, reclusive mystery novelist, to his longtime correspondent Nicky Hunter, an expert in detective fiction. With mere months to live, Trapp invites Nicky to his spectacular San Francisco mansion to help draft his life story . . . living alongside his beautiful second wife, Diana; his wayward nephew, Freddy; and his protective daughter, Madeleine. Soon Nicky finds herself caught in an irresistible case of real-life “detective fever.”

“You and I might even solve an old mystery or two.”

Twenty years earlier—on New Year’s Eve 1999—Sebastian’s first wife and teenage son vanished from different locations, never to be seen again. Did the perfect crime writer commit the perfect crime? And why has he emerged from seclusion, two decades later, to allow a stranger to dig into his past?

“Life is hard. After all, it kills you.”

As Nicky attempts to weave together the strands of Sebastian’s life, she becomes obsessed with discovering the truth . . . while Madeleine begins to question what her beloved father might actually know about that long-ago night. And when a corpse appears in the family’s koi pond, both women are shocked to find that the past isn’t gone—it’s just waiting.

My Opinion: This book makes you slow down and pay attention to every detail. I highly recommend reading the physical copy, as I was confused multiple times throughout the audiobook. Pacing-wise, End of Story is a slow read, with an over-complicated plot. It tries to weave in too many strands that it ends up being hard to keep track of.

The last few chapters were interesting, but the rest of the book never grabbed me enough that I found it irresistible. If you have read The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, and enjoyed it, just be warned this is an entirely different type of book. Overall, I think this book was intriguing, but I do wish it had a little more going on in the first half to make it quicker paced.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Murder Road

Murder Road by Simone St. James

First line: That July night seemed full of possibility, with the empty highway stretching out before us.

Summary: April and Eddie have just gotten married and are headed to a resort town for a blissful honeymoon until they pass a hitchhiker along a deserted road. Like any Good Samaritan, they stop to help the young woman only to find that she has been fatally stabbed. After reaching a hospital where the hitchhiker dies, April and Eddie give a description of the mysterious truck they saw following them along the dark road.

After years of murders along Atticus Road the police finally have witnesses. But could these witnesses also be suspects? In an attempt to clear their names the young couple dig into the history of what has happened along this particular stretch of road. But with each new discovery it appears that something more paranormal is behind the deaths along Atticus Road.

My Thoughts: I think I have found my new favorite Simone St. James book. This book was creepy, twisty and completely addicting. The supernatural element was perfectly blended into the contemporary mystery of the murders along Atticus Road. This is one of St. James’ most intense books in my opinion. There are ghostly sightings, angry townspeople and a murderer on the loose. I found myself gripping my iPad as I read, constantly worrying about the characters. Even the supporting characters were well rounded giving the story more substance.

Near the end is a twist which I found rather predictable but it did not spoil my love for this book. But the last interaction between our heroes and the detective was excellent as the truth comes out. I never once considered this twist but it made me question all that had happened between our characters up until this point. Once you read it you will understand!

**Release date is March 5 ,2024.**

Monica’s Musings: The Heiress

The Heiress by Rachel Hawkins

“A haunted house where the ghosts hadn’t had the courtesy to die yet.”
― Rachel Hawkins, The Heiress

Summary: When Ruby dies, she’s not only North Carolina’s richest woman, she’s also its most notorious. The victim of a famous kidnapping as a child and a widow four times over, Ruby ruled the tiny town of Tavistock from Ashby House, her family’s estate. In the aftermath of her death, that estate—along with a nine-figure fortune —pass to her adopted son, Camden.

But to everyone’s surprise, Cam wants little to do with the house or the money and even less to do with the surviving McTavishes. Instead, he rejects his inheritance, settling into a normal life in Colorado and with his wife Jules.

Ten years later, a summons in the wake of his uncle’s death brings him and Jules back into the family fold at Ashby House. Its views are just as stunning as ever, its rooms just as elegant, but coming home reminds Cam why he was so quick to leave in the first place. Soon, Jules and Cam realize that an inheritance can entail far more than what’s written in a will—and that the bonds of family stretch far beyond the grave.

My thoughts: Honestly, this book was not my cup of tea. I felt it was trying to do too much, and the different points of view made me lose interest. Showing us Ruby, Jules, and Camden’s points of view killed the flow. I got tired of going back and forth between all of them. And since I saw the reveals coming, it just made for a boring read.

We follow Ruby’s story as she writes letters to someone all about her younger life and how she came to meet the many men she marries. In between that, the book shows us the perspective of her adopted son, Camden, and his wife, Jules. The book has many twists and turns related to the family residing in the Ashby house, and soon it is clear things are not as they seem. The family has a wicked nature, and Camden and Jules are not safe staying at the Ashby House.

The ending was a meh moment that felt tossed at readers to wrap up the story, which solidified this as a two-star book for me. Overall, this was not my favorite Rachel Hawkins book, so I would suggest picking up any of her prior works instead!

Monica’s Musings: The Last Thing He Told Me

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

“This is the terrible thing about a tragedy. It isn’t with you every minute. You forget it, and then you remember it again.”
― Laura Dave, The Last Thing He Told Me

Summary: Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her. Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

My thoughts: This was my first Laura Dave book, and she hooked me right from the start. Her writing style, the characters, the plot, and the pacing felt authentic. Hannah narrates events in the present moment, but we also get flashbacks to her marriage to Owen. It helped that Hannah doesn’t feel sorry for herself. Her emotions are subtle, real, and honest.

While the mystery of Owen’s past is intriguing, the strength of this book lies in the characters. This is not as much about Hannah’s relationship with Owen, but more about her relationship with Bailey. Overall, I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait to read more by Laura Dave!

Monica’s Musings: The Villa

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

“And in moments like this, when it’s just the two of them in their perfect cocoon, she doesn’t regret any of it.”
― Rachel Hawkins, The Villa

Summary: As kids, Emily and Chess were inseparable. But by their 30s, their bond has been strained by the demands of their adult lives. So when Chess suggests a girls trip to Italy, Emily jumps at the chance to reconnect with her best friend.

Villa Aestas in Orvieto is a high-end holiday home now, but in 1974, it was known as Villa Rosato, and rented for the summer by a notorious rock star, Noel Gordon. In an attempt to reignite his creative spark, Noel invites up-and-coming musician, Pierce Sheldon to join him, as well as Pierce’s girlfriend, Mari, and her stepsister, Lara. But he also sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Mari writing one of the greatest horror novels of all time, Lara composing a platinum album––and ends in Pierce’s brutal murder.

As Emily digs into the villa’s complicated history, she begins to think there might be more to the story of that fateful summer in 1974. That perhaps Pierce’s murder wasn’t just a tale of the rock & roll lifestyle gone wrong, but that something more sinister might have occurred––and that there might be clues hidden in the now-iconic works that Mari and Lara left behind.

Yet the closer that Emily gets to the truth, the more tension she feels developing between her and Chess. As secrets from the past come to light, equally dangerous betrayals from the present also emerge––and it begins to look like the villa will claim another victim before the summer ends.

My thoughts: The Villa is a story told in two timelines, one being present day from the viewpoint of Emily. The second being in the 1970s from the viewpoint of Mari. It is a layered, suspenseful story, in both timelines. In the past, the mystery is straightforward: the who and the why of the murdered and murderer. In the present, the mysteries are more subtle: the tension in Emily’s relationships with Chess and with her soon-to-be ex-husband Matt. Both stories work individually, and each adds a bit of depth to the other.

Once again I am impressed with a Rachel Hawkins book! I definitely enjoy her writing style. Her stories are quickly paced and easy to follow. While this one was a little more straightforward, I found it just as eerie as her other works! For my reviews on Reckless Girls and The Wife Upstairs, click the links.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Christmas Guest

The Christmas Guest by Peter Swanson

First line: Since I have no family of my own, I am yearly asked by friends and colleagues to their homes for the Christmas holidays.

Summary: American student, Ashley Smith, is studying abroad in London. It is Christmas and she is alone. Her mother died a few years before and never knew her father. She imagines a quiet holiday in the big city until she is invited by a new friend to her family’s home in the Cotswolds. Excited with the prospects of having a truly English Christmas she quickly accepts. Upon arrival she is instantly impressed with the house, the village and especially her friend’s brother. As the days pass she falls into the family routine and deeper into her crush for Adam. But when she hears that Adam is a suspect of a recent killing she doesn’t know what to believe about him. Has she been fooled by this handsome English boy or is there someone else lurking in the woods around Starvewood Hall?

My Thoughts: This was a hard book for me to review. I was waffling between 3 and 4 stars. I did not like the first half of the book with the diary entries. I know that the main character is a nineteen-year-old girl, but it was just annoying to read at points. It did feel very juvenile which I applaud the author for achieving since that was the goal, but I did not like it too much. However, the second half throws everything on its head. I loved this bit with the twists and background for the first half of the story. And then when you discover the reason behind the title it gave me goosebumps. Part of it felt a little corny but I was in for it at this point. This would definitely be a perfect read for a cold night at Christmastime. It could easily be read in one sitting with a cup of tea and a warm blanket.

Monica’s Musings: Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six by Lisa Unger

“What is it that they say? That thing about happy and unhappy families? That happiness is all the same, but misery is unique?”― Lisa Unger, Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

Summary: Three couples rent a luxury cabin in the woods for a weekend getaway to die for in this chilling locked-room thriller.

What could be more restful than a weekend getaway with family and friends? An isolated luxury cabin in the woods with spectacular views, a hot tub, and a personal chef. Hannah’s generous brother found the listing online. The reviews are stellar. It’ll be three couples on this trip with good food, good company, and lots of R&R. But the dreamy weekend is about to turn into a nightmare.

A deadly storm is brewing. The rental host seems just a little too present. The personal chef reveals that their beautiful house has a spine-tingling history. And the friends have their own complicated pasts, with secrets that run blood deep. How well does Hannah know her brother, her own husband? Can she trust her best friend? Meanwhile, someone is determined to ruin the weekend, looking to exact payback for deeds long buried. Who is the stranger among them?

My Thoughts: There are so many POVs in this, which is a bit daunting. Adding to the confusion, the characters do not seem to mesh with the main narrative of the luxury vacation. Plus, the prologue included a tense Christmas dinner involving the mysterious gift of DNA tests where no one claimed to be the gift provider. Simply put, there is a lot to grasp in this story.

Once the three couples get to the cabin, the cabin owner proves to be disturbing. Bad things start happening. Who is doing it? To what end?

I listened to the audio and enjoyed the story, but it might be better to read it instead. I had to rewind a few times, thinking I missed a thread. It is one of those thrillers that allows many open threads that ultimately come together to knit a nice ending!

Monica’s Musings: You Shouldn’t Have Come Here

You Shouldn’t Have Come Here by Jeneva Rose

“It’s easy to be fooled by pretty things. We look at them and think something special went into creating them, like extra time was spent, like they are good because of their beauty. I rarely trust beautiful things.”
― Jeneva Rose, You Shouldn’t Have Come Here

Summary: Grace Evans, an overworked New Yorker looking for a total escape from her busy life, books an Air BnB on a ranch in the middle of Wyoming. When she arrives, she’s pleasantly surprised to find that the owner is a handsome man by the name of Calvin Wells. But there are things Grace discovers that she’s not too pleased about; such as the lack of cell phone service, a missing woman, and a feeling that something isn’t right with the town.

Despite her uneasiness and misgivings from Calvin’s friends and family, the two grow close and start to fall for one another. However, as her departure date nears, things between them start to change for the worse. Grace grows wary of Calvin as his infatuation for her seems to turn into obsession. Calvin fears that Grace is hiding something from him.

Told from dual points of view, You Shouldn’t Have Come Here is a thrill ride and a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when you open up your house and your heart to a total stranger.

My Thoughts:  My head is still spinning at that crazy and out of nowhere ending, and I am unsure how I feel about. I thought I had it figured out, but I was so far off it was not even funny.

The first half of the book felt like a romance novel. A city girl heads to a ranch in Wyoming for a 10-day escape. The owner is good-looking, and suddenly, a love story is happening. After the halfway point, then we had a thriller. Just when you think you have it figured out, who and why, you haven’t. I think my favorite aspect of this story is the overwhelming sense of foreboding that starts at the beginning and doesn’t stop until the end.

Monica’s Musings: The Woman in Cabin 10

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

“What was going to happen to me? There were only two possibilities—they were going to let me go at some point. Or they were going to kill me.”
― Ruth Ware, The Woman in Cabin 10

Summary: Lo Blacklock, a journalist who writes for a travel magazine, has just been given the assignment of a lifetime: a week on a luxury cruise with only a handful of cabins. The sky is clear, the waters calm, and the veneered, select guests jovial as the exclusive cruise ship, the Aurora, begins her voyage in the picturesque North Sea.

At first, Lo’s stay is nothing but pleasant. The cabins are plush, the dinner parties are sparkling, and the guests are elegant. But as the week wears on, frigid winds whip the deck, gray skies fall, and Lo witnesses what she can only describe as a dark and terrifying nightmare: a woman being thrown overboard. The problem? All passengers remain accounted for, so the ship sails on as if nothing has happened, despite Lo’s desperate attempts to convey that something (or someone) has gone terribly, terribly wrong.

My Thoughts: This book started off slow and took me a minute to get into. However, the pacing after the first 25% was great! The suspense built, layer upon layer, until I couldn’t wait to figure out what was going on. Unfortunately, it is revealed a little earlier than expected, with a few minor twists nearing the end.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this one, as it was a quick, compelling read, but I did expect much more from it. This one felt confusing, like a debut that you expect to be a little rough. I would still recommend it, but I wouldn’t say it stands out among other thrillers/mysteries.

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Trade Off

The Trade Off by Sandie Jones

First line: “You’ve got a nerve showing up here,” he hisses, coming to an abrupt halt beside me as he leads the mourners back up the aisle.

Summary: Jess has just landed her dream job. She is going to be a real reporter for The Globe newspaper. With her new job she hopes to change the world with her reporting. But once she meets the infamous Stella, her boss and deputy editor, she sees that standing by her morals may be harder than she thinks. On her first assignment she learns that the underhanded ways of the paper can lead to some deadly consequences. How can she continue working at a place that puts sales over the lives of those they report on?

My Thoughts: I was not sure about requesting the newest Sandie Jones book. The last two books were just not that good. I wondered if it was time to move on but I am glad I picked this one up. It was a quick paced and shows the backstabbing nature of modern news outlets.

The two main characters seem to be night and day. Stella is the hardened reporter who will do whatever to get the big story. Jess is the rookie who still believes in justice and the truth no matter what. With the alternating chapters the reader sees the differences in how they deal with similar situations. But really how different are they? Both are women in a world dominated by men.

Reading this really made me think about how tabloids and clickbait is used to destroy people’s lives. How much can we really trust some of the “news” that is circulating all over social media? I think this will give readers a look at something we see every day but then question how these stories were tailored.

FYI: Suicide, rape and stalking.