BOOK REVIEW: An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

When I was a kid there was nothing I looked forward to more than the release of a new Nancy Drew computer game. There was something about being left to my own devices to solve a mystery that made me feel more alive than ever. My favourite thing about the games was the atmosphere – the secluded setting where Nancy was cut off from the outside world and could only interact with the few people around her. One game in particular, called Treasure In The Royal Tower, took place in a ski resort where several guests had been trapped by a snow storm. It was my absolute favourite, which is why the moment I cracked open Canadian literary star Shari Lapena’s new novel, I knew I was going to be pleased.

A little bit of backstory before we dive into the review: Shari Lapena is one of Canada’s hottest authors. Her two past novels The Couple Next Door and A Stranger In The House have been massive hits. Her latest novel, An Unwanted Guest, was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. She’s a master of atmosphere and thrills. She also liked my Instagram post the other day (which resulted in a little happy dance in my work office).

An Unwanted Guest, published by Random House, is about a group of strangers who are snowed into the tiny, secluded hotel in the Catskills they’ve all come to stay at for the weekend. What begins as a fun getaway and a chance to meet new friends quickly goes off track when one of the guests ends up dead. With no power, no help coming, and no way to know who is responsible, the remaining guests descend into chaos as they try to survive the weekend, and one another.

What I loved so much about An Unwanted Guest was how much Lapena left me to my own devices to try to solve the mystery. Layering small clues throughout the story, she made the novel twisty and turny enough that I found myself second-guessing my suspicions. With well-developed characters with detailed and interesting backstories, An Unwanted Guest is as much a character study as a mystery novel.

This book definitely has an Agatha Christie vibe to it. It’s campy and atmospheric and filled to the brim with fear, suspicion and greed. Every character is only trying to look after themselves, which sets the scene for some of the nefarious and frightening actions people commit.

If you’re looking for a fun, exciting read over the holiday break, I highly recommend grabbing a copy of An Unwanted Guest. If you enjoy mysteries and thrillers this is the perfect book for you, but it’s not so scary that it will turn off readers who may not enjoy those genres as much. And if you ever played a Nancy Drew computer game, the best possible thing you can do to reminisce on the good old days is grab this book.

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[9/50] A Stranger In The House by Shari Lapena

I always get excited about Canadian authors. There are so many amazing Canadian writers out there, and I want to dedicate a part of my 50 book challenge to showcasing their work. Shari Lapena falls into this category. The Toronto-based author has taken off since her first book The Couple Next Door was published. It was a domestic and international bestseller. A Stranger In The House is her much-awaited follow up. Here are two articles, one from MacLean's and the other from Quill & Quire, about Lapena and her work. I definitely recommend giving these a look. Lapena is very accomplished, and it's so nice to see a Canadian author getting such stellar coverage.

After reading The Couple Next Door, I had a good sense of what Lapena is like as a writer. She drops major plot-twists throughout her books. She also relies heavily on unlikable characters - people who are flawed and misdirected and at times downright cruel. A Stranger In The House focused on a few central characters, and I can't say that I really liked any of them. They are definitely not the kind of people that I would want to spend time with. That being said, Lapena pulls off something pretty impressive by writing a book about terrible people and still managing to make it readable.

A Stranger In The House is about Karen Krupp, a New York housewife who is accused of committing a crime that she can't remember committing after suffering from a head injury in a car crash. As the investigation into her deepens, Karen realizes that she is going to have to come clean to her husband about her past and the lies she has told him, all while trying to piece together her whereabouts at the time of the crime.

A Stranger In The House falls into the category of suspense or thriller. At its core it is a murder mystery, but it is also a drama about family, friendship, and lies. At times I felt like the central mystery was a bit too easy for the reader to piece together. It wasn't until the end that I realized that maybe that was the whole point. Lapena draws you in and has you make assumptions and decisions about the characters, and then in the end she finally gives you all of the information you need and you see that you were completely wrong.

I can't honestly say that I loved this book. It was a fun, entertaining read, but I never felt particularly attached to any of the characters. I almost didn't care what the outcome was because I wasn't rooting for anyone. This is the kind of book that would be fun to read on a weekend holiday or during a long car trip because it's pretty straightforward and easy to read. If you're looking for something with more depth and character development, this may not be what you need.

Overall, A Stranger In The House is fun. Ever since I read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn I have been searching for similar kinds of books. Both of Shari Lapena's books are great for people who like mysteries and thrillers, and I think this is the kind of book that fans of Gone Girl will flock to.

If you liked this you might also like:

- The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

- Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris