REVIEW: THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

 

Ten years ago, Lena Donohue experienced a wedding-day betrayal so painful that she fled the small town of Watersend, South Carolina, and reinvented herself in New York City. Though now a freelance travel writer, the one place she rarely goes is home—until she learns of her dad’s failing health.

Returning to Watersend means seeing the sister she has avoided for a decade and the brother who runs the family’s Irish pub and has borne the burden of his sisters’ rift. While Alzheimer’s slowly steals their father’s memories, the siblings rush to preserve his life in stories and in photographs. As his secret past brings Lena’s own childhood into focus, it sends her on a journey to discover the true meaning of home.

My Thoughts: Colleen and Hallie were as close as two sisters could be until the betrayal that changed everything between them. I was immediately caught up in the family stories that unfolded in The Favorite Daughter, and for most of the book, I was angry with Hallie, on Colleen’s behalf. But then, almost like turning a page and finding a completely different version of reality, another perspective revealed itself.

The pub that was the centerpiece of the family life in Watersend was based on an Irish pub and another family story that was only fleshed out near the end. A journey to Ireland, a travel memoir that incorporates Colleen’s search for home, and the ultimate reunion kept me turning pages until the end. 4.5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: LADY IN THE LAKE, BY LAURA LIPPMAN

 

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know—everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl—assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young black woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie—and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life—a jewelry store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people—including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows.

My Thoughts: Lady in the Lake takes the reader to mid-sixties Baltimore, spotlighting issues from the times. A woman who suddenly leaves her long-standing marriage is seeking a life of her own and finds herself thrust into a murder investigation and a fledgling career on a newspaper that changes her perspective on the world around her. Women’s issues, racial injustice, and finding one’s way in a changing world keep Maddie going on her journey, although her needs and desires take precedence over those of others, making her seem self-centered.

It was hard to like Maddie, even though I could relate to her feelings on some level, having lived through those changing times. Alternating narrators led us through the lives of peripheral characters, including the apparent “ghost” of Cleo Sherwood. Maddie’s obsession with that woman did show a side of her that took her outside of her own needs for a time. I enjoyed seeing how events unfolded and found the resolution intriguing. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: MY EX-BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING, BY WENDY WAX

 

Prized and stored away for safekeeping, the timeless ivory wedding dress, with its scooped neck and cleverly fitted bodice, sits gently folded in its box, whispering of Happily Ever Afters. To Kendra, Brianna, and Lauren it’s a reminder of what could have been, the promise of a fairy tale, and a friendship torn apart. But as Kendra knows firsthand: it wasn’t the dress’s fault.

Once closer than sisters, Lauren and Bree have grown up and grown apart, allowing broken promises and unfulfilled dreams to destroy their friendship. A successful author, Lauren returns home to the Outer Banks, fiancé in tow, to claim the dress she never thought she’d wear. While Bree, a bookstore owner, grapples with the realities of life after you marry the handsome prince. As the former best friends wrestle with their uncertain futures, they are both certain of one thing: some betrayals can never be forgiven.

Now on the eve of her daughter Lauren’s wedding, Kendra struggles with a secret she’s kept for far too long. And vows to make sure the dress will finally bring Lauren and Bree back together—knowing they’ll need each other to survive the coming storm.

My Thoughts: When successful novelist Lauren James accepts boyfriend Spencer’s proposal and begins to think about going home to the Outer Banks for the wedding ceremony, she has some mixed feelings. Her former best friend Bree is not someone she really wants to see again. As she thinks back on their falling out all those years ago, she still feels the pain.

Back home, Bree hears the news and realizes that she is not so eager to reconnect either. After all, Lauren has gone on to become a best-selling author, a dream they both shared. But Bree is still working on her one and only manuscript after fifteen years.

Meanwhile, Lauren’s mother Kendra has just realized that a forty-year-old secret she has kept could be coming out soon. How should she reveal it in a way that will do the least damage?

Our alternating narrators in My Ex-Best Friend’s Wedding offer just what we need to know in the most titillating way possible, and I couldn’t help rapidly reading, wondering how the secrets and the past damages would be brought to light. A 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: THE PERFECT SON, BY LAUREN NORTH

 

When Tess Clarke wakes up in the hospital the day after her son Jamie’s eighth birthday, she’s sure of these things: She’s been stabbed, her son is missing, her brother-in-law and her grief counselor are involved. But no one is listening to her.

After her husband, Mark, died suddenly in a terrible accident a few months earlier, the only thing keeping Tess together is Jamie. As they struggle to make sense of their new life without Mark, they find joy in brief moments of normalcy like walking to school and watching television together. Life is hard without Mark, but Tess has Jamie, and that’s what matters.

But there in the hospital, confused and surrounded by people who won’t listen, Tess’s world falls apart. To save her son, she must piece together what happened between Mark’s death and Jamie’s birthday, but the truth might just be too much for her to bear.

My Thoughts: From the very beginning moments of The Perfect Son, I was drawn in to Tess’s grieving world through her internal monologues centering around her husband Mark and son Jamie. Her fears and her increasing sense of impending danger carry me along to the point where I felt what she was feeling. Her enemies were mine, and I didn’t trust anyone either.

Alternating narratives from Ian, Shelley, and an interviewer at the hospital offer other perspectives, so as the pages turn, we sense a conflict and a questionable reality. Whose version of the truth should we believe?

What happened on Jamie’s birthday? How did Tess end up hospitalized with a stab wound? Would the truth set her free or thrust her into further darkness? I was stunned by the ending and how events played out. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: OBJECT OF MY AFFECTION, BY STEPHEN MCCAULEY

 

George and Nina seem like the perfect couple. They share a cozy, cluttered Brooklyn apartment, a taste for impromptu tuna casserole dinners, and a devotion to ballroom dancing lessons at Arthur Murray. They love each other. There’s only one hitch: George is gay. And when Nina announces she’s pregnant, things get especially complicated. Howard—Nina’s overbearing boyfriend and the baby’s father—wants marriage. Nina wants independence. George will do anything for a little unqualified affection, but is he ready to become an unwed surrogate dad? A touching and hilarious novel about love, friendship, and the many ways of making a family.

 

My Thoughts: I loved the movie based on Object of My Affection, starring Jennifer Aniston and Paul Ruud, among others.

After reading another novel by this author, I was eager to see how this story played out in book format.

Just as in the movie, I enjoyed the settings (Manhattan, Brooklyn) and the issues of two roommates taking on the challenges of single life, especially when one of the characters is having a baby with another man.

The book ended on a different note, and while I liked it, I couldn’t help but wish for the movie ending. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: TELEPHONE LINE, BY JULIE MULHERN

 

Ellison Russell is planning the event of the season—and she’s stressed. Why not yoga?

Because the yoga instructor gets murdered during class—and Ellison’s stress level rises exponentially. Now, in addition to raising a ridiculous amount of money, she’s babysitting a deranged cat (named after the devil himself), taking ten million phone calls (most of them from Mother), and finding more bodies (they’re popping up like dandelions after a spring rain).

There’s no such thing as balance when the killer makes it personal. Can Ellison catch a murderer or will her next namaste be her last?

My Thoughts: Telephone Line, the ninth installment in the Country Club Murders Series, immediately thrusts our protagonist, Ellison Russell, into a murder mystery. As those who have followed the books know, Ellison is always front and center at murder scenes, finding dead bodies as if they are a hobby for her. Her relationship with Homicide Detective Anarchy Jones grows exponentially with each experience.

Yoga class seemed like a good way to relax, but the death of the instructor proved that theory wrong.

As Ellison studies the clues, explores the connections between old cases, and also tries to collect donations for the upcoming gala, I was gripping the pages and trying to help solve the cases. As usual, the perpetrator is another unexpected one. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: DEAR WIFE, BY KIMBERLY BELLE

 

Beth Murphy is on the run…

For nearly a year, Beth has been planning for this day. A day some people might call any other Wednesday, but Beth prefers to see it as her new beginning—one with a new look, new name and new city. Beth has given her plan significant thought, because one small slip and her violent husband will find her.

Sabine Hardison is missing…

A couple hundred miles away, Jeffrey returns home from a work trip to find his wife, Sabine, is missing. Wherever she is, she’s taken almost nothing with her. Her abandoned car is the only evidence the police have, and all signs point to foul play.

As the police search for leads, the case becomes more and more convoluted. Sabine’s carefully laid plans for her future indicate trouble at home, and a husband who would be better off with her gone. The detective on the case will stop at nothing to find out what happened and bring this missing woman home. Where is Sabine? And who is Beth? The only thing that’s certain is that someone is lying and the truth won’t stay buried for long.

My Thoughts: A missing wife, a runaway wife, and a predator. Who is Beth running from, and what happened to Sabine?

Immediately I was caught up in the stories of the narrators, from Beth, to Sabine, and even to Marcus. Parts of the story caught me off guard, and then everything made perfect sense.

I loved how the narrators told us how and why their lives were unfolding in this way, and I rooted for some of them…and not others.

Dear Wife was a riveting tale that captured me until the end. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THINGS YOU SAVE IN A FIRE, BY KATHERINE CENTER

 

Cassie Hanwell was born for emergencies. As one of the only female firefighters in her Texas firehouse, she’s seen her fair share of them, and she’s a total pro at other people’s tragedies. But when her estranged and ailing mother asks her to give up her whole life and move to Boston, Cassie suddenly has an emergency of her own.

The tough, old-school Boston firehouse is as different from Cassie’s old job as it could possibly be. Hazing, a lack of funding, and poor facilities mean that the firemen aren’t exactly thrilled to have a “lady” on the crew—even one as competent and smart as Cassie. Except for the infatuation-inspiring rookie, who doesn’t seem to mind having Cassie around. But she can’t think about that. Because love is girly, and it’s not her thing. And don’t forget the advice her old captain gave her: Never date firefighters. Cassie can feel her resolve slipping…and it means risking it all—the only job she’s ever loved, and the hero she’s worked like hell to become.

 

 

My Thoughts: Things You Save in a Fire grabbed me right away. Cassie had fought her whole life to achieve her goals and to leave behind the pain of her mother’s abandonment. Something else happened to her just after her mother left, something that would leave deep scars. Something that would come back to haunt her just when she had earned an award of valor. On the heels of the award and the haunting memories of the past, her mother pleads with her to come help her with some medical issues.

An emotional storm pushed Cassie toward Boston, despite her resistance. Will she find a way to reconnect with her mother? Can she finally put the past behind her?

I thoroughly enjoyed Cassie’s challenges and her willingness to move forward. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: BECAUSE YOU’RE MINE, BY REA FREY

 

Single mother Lee has the daily routine down to a science: shower in six minutes. Cut food into perfect squares. Never leave her on-the-spectrum son Mason in someone else’s care. She’ll do anything-anything—to keep his carefully constructed world from falling apart. Do anything to keep him safe.

But when her best friend Grace convinces her she needs a small break from motherhood to re-charge her batteries, Lee gives in to a weekend trip. Surely a long weekend away from home won’t hurt?

Noah, Mason’s handsome, bright, charismatic tutor—the first man in ages Lee’s even noticed—is more than happy to stay with him.

Forty-eight hours later, someone is dead.

But not all is as it seems. Noah may be more than who he claims to be. Grace has a secret—one that will destroy Lee. Lee has secrets of her own that she will do anything to keep hidden. And what will happen to Mason, as the dominoes begin to fall and the past comes to light?

Perhaps it’s no mystery someone is gone after all…

 

My Thoughts: What began as a story about friendship and the world of single parenting would morph into a suspense thriller with so many layers of deceit that it would take rapidly turning those pages to find out more. As we delve further into Because You’re Mine we learn snippets of those long-held secrets, but we won’t realize the extent of them until the very end.

What is the story behinds Mason’s paternity? What happened to each woman’s family members that would change the course of their lives? How did Noah fit into each of their lives, past and present?

Each revelation begins to offer a peek of those lives in the past, as well as the present, but it would only be in the final pages that we truly understand the depths of the duplicity. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE PERFECT WIFE, BY J P DELANEY

 

Abbie awakens in a daze with no memory of who she is or how she landed in this unsettling condition. The man by her side claims to be her husband. He’s a titan of the tech world, the founder of one of Silicon Valley’s most innovative start-ups. He tells Abbie that she is a gifted artist, an avid surfer, a loving mother to their young son, and the perfect wife. He says she had a terrible accident five years ago and that, through a huge technological breakthrough, she has been brought back from the abyss.

She is a miracle of science.

But as Abbie pieces together memories of her marriage, she begins questioning her husband’s motives—and his version of events. Can she trust him when he says he wants them to be together forever? And what really happened to Abbie half a decade ago?

Beware the man who calls you . . .

THE PERFECT WIFE

 

My Thoughts: At first glance, The Perfect Wife could be one man’s attempt to recreate his dead wife, unable to move on after the loss of her. Since he is adept at technological advances, what Tim does to create his dream wife seems almost sweet.

But it doesn’t take long for the artificial version to fill the reader in on the true motives, and even then, we have persistent questions about what is really going on.

The story unfolds in alternating narratives: Real Abbie vs. Artificial Version. We soon come to empathize with each part of her, turning pages rapidly to learn what she will ultimately decide to do when her very existence is threatened.

At the very end, I was stunned by what happened. Could there be some kind of happiness in whatever chosen existence prevails? Would the Real Abbie please stand up? 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.