REVIEW: THE ISLAND HOUSE, BY NANCY THAYER

 

Courtney Hendricks will never forget the magical summers she spent on Nantucket with her college roommate, Robin Vickerey, and Robin’s charismatic, turbulent, larger-than-life family, in their gorgeous island house. Now a college English professor in Kansas City, Courtney is determined to experience one more summer in this sun-swept paradise. Her reason for going is personal: Courtney needs to know whether Robin’s brother James shares the feelings she’s secretly had for him.

Time with the Vickerey family always involves love and laughter, and this season is no different.

Vivacious matriarch Susanna Vickerey is celebrating her sixtieth birthday, but beneath the merriment, trouble is brewing. The family patriarch, Dr. Alastair Vickerey, is quiet and detached, while unspoken tension looms over oldest son Henry, a respected young surgeon. Warm and witty Robin, the most grounded of the siblings, is keeping a secret from her parents. Iris, the colorful baby of the brood, remains rudderless and in need of guidance. And the sexy, stunningly handsome, untouchable James—to Courtney’s dismay—may be in love with a beautiful and vibrant local artist. As the summer unfolds, a crisis escalates, surprising truths are revealed, and Courtney will at last find out where her heart and her future lie.

My Thoughts: I savored The Island House, a story of family, secrets, and chaotic upheavals in a gorgeous setting.

I liked Courtney right away, and I was also intrigued by her best friend Robin. Some of the other characters were less delightful, like Christabel, who was not a family member, but an island resident who always seemed to be around, making sarcastic remarks and stirring up trouble, while trying to be the center of attention.

James was the perfect hunk who distanced himself a bit…probably due to family issues involving the older brother Henry.

What will Courtney realize about herself as this final summer brings out revelations that show us more about what choices she should make?

The story flips back and forth in time, offering the reader a view of the events that defined the characters. The shifts in the time line were easy to follow, as they were presented in bold and smaller print.

A slow read that brought this colorful family full of interesting characters to life, the story captured me, making me feel a part of their lives and experiences; it kept me reading, even at times when I wanted the pace to speed up and take me to the final denouement. A satisfying tale that earned 4 stars.

***
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RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “HEAVEN ADJACENT”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a recent download: Heaven Adjacent, by Catherine Ryan Hyde, a bittersweet novel about healing old wounds and finding a new place to call home…

 

 

 

 

Intro:  (Three Months After the Move)

(When Somebody Hands You a Fish)

Roseanna was standing under the barely warm water in her tiny, cold makeshift shower when the bell at the gate began to clang.

She cursed to herself a few times, under her breath but out loud, rinsing off more or less all at once and grabbing a towel.  She stepped out into her shabby and small add-on bathroom, toweled her hair briefly, then wrapped the towel around herself.

***

Teaser:  “That might be a bridge too far,” Roseanna said, almost without considering her words.  Then, remembering the feeling of freedom everywhere, she added, “But I guess I could think about it.” (p. 56).

***

Synopsis:  Roseanna Chaldecott spent her life as a high-powered lawyer in Manhattan. But when her best friend and law partner dies suddenly, something snaps. Unsure of her future, Roseanna heads upstate on one tank of gas and with no plans to return.

In the foothills of the Adirondacks, Roseanna discovers the perfect hideout in a ramshackle farm. Its seventy-six acres are rich with possibilities and full of surprises, including a mother and daughter squatting on the property. Although company is the last thing Roseanna wants, she reluctantly lets them stay.

Roseanna and the young girl begin sculpting junk found around the farm into zoo animals, drawing more newcomers—including her estranged son, Lance. He pleads with Roseanna to return to the city, but she’s finally discovered where she belongs. It may not provide the solitude she originally sought, but her heart has found room for much more.

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

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REVIEW: THE NEIGHBORS, BY HANNAH MARY MCKINNON

 

After a night of fun back in 1992, Abby is responsible for a car crash that kills her beloved brother. It’s a mistake she can never forgive, so she pushes away Liam, the man she loves most, knowing that he would eventually hate her for what she’s done, the same way she hates herself.

Twenty years later, Abby’s husband, Nate, is also living with a deep sense of guilt. He was the driver who first came upon the scene of Abby’s accident, the man who pulled her to safety before the car erupted in flames—the man who could not save her brother in time. It’s this guilt, this regret, that binds them together. They understand each other. Or so Nate believes.

In a strange twist of fate, Liam moves into the neighborhood with his own family, releasing a flood of memories that Abby has been trying to keep buried all these years. Abby and Liam, in a complicit agreement, pretend never to have met, yet cannot resist the pull of the past—nor the repercussions of the terrible secrets they’ve both been carrying…

My Thoughts: When I first started reading The Neighbors, I settled in for a trip down dark pathways with secrets from the past. The story flipped between the past and the present, and alternating narrators told the story.

But, sadly, I soon realized that I could not relate to any of the characters, and the secrets that kept them on such pins and needles did not feel life-altering to me. The tragic accident in the past could have generated enough emotion to change their lives, but instead, it felt like an incidental event, small in comparison to the after effects in their relationships. I couldn’t relate to why the characters made the decisions they did, or why they had to keep so many secrets. I was relieved to turn the final pages. 3.5 stars.

***

RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “SHELL GAME”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a recent acquisition:  Shell Game, by Sara Paretsky, is a compelling and timely adventure centers on some of the most divisive and pressing issues of our time…

 

 

 

Intro:  (Babe in the Woods)

The deputy turned without warning into an uncut thicket.  Felix and I stumbled after him, following his bobbing flashlight as best we could, the suckers from the bushes and trees snapping back to whip our faces.  When I called to him to slow down, he merely picked up his pace.

***

Teaser:  It was my turn to pause while I went back over my conversations with McGivney.  Simone had told the state’s attorney she had an investigator digging into Fausson’s associates; McGivney had made the leap, but it was a reasonable guess. (56%).

***

Synopsis:  When V. I Warshawski gets word that her closest friend and mentor Lotty Herschel’s nephew has become a suspect in a murder, the legendary detective will do everything she can to save him. The cops found Felix Herschel’s name and phone number on the unknown victim’s remains, but Felix insists he doesn’t know why.

As Vic digs deeper, she discovers that the dead man was obsessed with Middle Eastern archeology—the first clue in a bewildering case that leads to a stolen artifact and a shadowy network of international criminals. But the trouble multiplies when Vic’s long lost niece, Reno, goes missing. A beautiful young woman with a heartbreaking past and a promising future, Reno is harboring a secret that may cost her her life. V.I. can hear the clock ticking on her niece’s safety and is frantic in her efforts to find her.

Vic won’t leave any stone unturned until these very personal cases are cleared—a complex investigation that will entangle the Russian mob, ISIS backers, rogue ICE agents, a nefarious corporation preying on the poor, and a shady network of stock scams and stolen antiquities stretching from Chicago to the East Indies and the Middle East.

In Shell Game, no one can be trusted and nothing is what it seems, except for the indomitable detective and her thirst for justice.

***

Do the excerpts grab you?  Do you want to keep reading?

***

RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “UNDER MY SKIN”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is Under My Skin, by Lisa Unger,  an addictive psychological thriller about a woman on the hunt for her husband’s killer.

 

 

 

Intro:  (Prologue)

I like him.  I do.

But.

There’s always a but, isn’t there?

He’s talking and I should be listening.  I’m not.  Does he see it, that I’m scattered, distracted?  Doubtful.  He doesn’t seem especially observant, has that way about him that people do now.  As if they are putting on a show of themselves, as if the moment is being watched rather than lived.

***

Teaser Tuesday:  The sun is dipping low when I find myself back in front of my apartment building.  My reflection in the glass doors stares back at me, and I must confront the fact that I have no memory of the last couple of hours. (66%).

***

Synopsis:  It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?

The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts—there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she’s unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?

***

What do you think?  Would you keep reading?

***

REVIEW: THEY ALL FALL DOWN, BY TAMMY COHEN

 

Hannah had a perfect life in London—a loving husband, a great job—until she did something shocking. Something that she doesn’t quite understand herself; and now she has landed herself in a high-risk psychiatric unit.

Since Hannah has been admitted, two women have died, including Charlie, one of her closest friends in the institution. It’s a high-risk unit, the authorities say. Deaths happen. But Hannah knows Charlie wouldn’t have killed herself. She is convinced there’s a serial killer picking off the patients one by one, passing their deaths off as suicides. But why? And who will believe her?

Corinne, Hannah’s mother, is worried sick about her eldest daughter. She hates that she’s ended up in the unit, though she knows it’s the best place for her to get the treatment she needs. At first, Corinne assumes Hannah’s outlandish claims about a killer in the unit are just another manifestation of her psychological condition, but as she starts to uncover strange inconsistencies surrounding the unit’s charismatic director, Dr. Roberts, she begins to wonder if her daughter might have stumbled upon the truth.

 

My Thoughts:  I flew through the pages of They All Fall Down, trying to figure out the mysterious deaths, and who, if anyone, was behind them.

Could Hannah be right about what was happening in the frightening new world in which she now lived?  The alternating narrators included Hannah, her mother Corinne, a therapist named Laura, and various others.  In each perspective, we learned a little bit more about the strange world inside.  Finally, we discovered the secret pasts of several characters, all of which led to the final reveal, just as danger galloped toward Hannah with every step.  4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE BOOK CLUB, BY MARY ALICE MONROE

 

On the surface, it is a monthly book club. But for five women, it is so much more. For Eve Porter, whose husband’s sudden death cheats her of every security she had planned on, the club is a place of sanctuary. For Annie Blake, a brilliant attorney intent on starting a family late in life, it is the chance to finally let down her guard and dream of other possibilities. For Doris Bridges, it is her support group as she acknowledges her dying marriage and finds the ultimate freedom in her husband’s betrayal. For Gabriella Rivera, the “perfect” wife, mother and friend who offers support to everyone but is afraid to ask for it herself, it is a sense of community. And for Midge Kirsch, an artist who has always lived her life against the grain, it is a haven of acceptance.

They are five women from different walks of life, embracing the challenge of change. And as they share their hopes and fears and triumphs, they will hold fast to the true magic of the book club—friendship.

 

 

My Thoughts: From the very beginning of The Book Club, I was drawn into the lives of the five women facing life and its challenges, and how their love of books was just a tiny piece of what held them together.

Their stories flow alternately, and we see how their lives intersect, especially when they come together in times of joy and times of trouble.

Set in the 1990s, in suburban Chicago, the author shows us their lives in great detail, from the ordinary moments to the tragic ones. In the very beginning, at Tom’s funeral, something happens that puzzles a few of the characters, and I kept waiting for that secret to reveal itself, for the reader to find out what that was about. I had my suspicions, but they wouldn’t be realized until the story began to draw to an end.

A story of friendship, struggles, transitions, and a celebration of life…at times the tale was tedious, but the emotions and situations were real, spotlighting all the flaws of ordinary people and the choices they make along the way. 4.0 stars.

***

RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “A SPARK OF LIGHT”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a recent download:  A Spark of Light, by Jodi Picoult, a powerful and provocative new novel about ordinary lives that intersect during a heart-stopping crisis.

 

 

 

Intro:  Five p.m.

The Center squatted on the corner of Juniper and Montfort behind a wrought-iron gate, like an old bulldog used to guarding its territory.  At one point, there had been many like it in Mississippi—nondescript, unassuming buildings where services were provided and needs were met.  Then came the restrictions that were designed to make these places go away:  The halls had to be wide enough to accommodate two passing gurneys; any clinic where that wasn’t the case had to shut down or spend thousands on reconstruction.  The doctors had to have admitting privileges at local hospitals—even though most were from out of state and couldn’t secure them—or the clinics where they practiced risked closing, too.  One by one the clinics shuttered their windows and boarded up their doors.

***

Teaser Tuesdays:  As he expected, his grandmama started to cry.  I lost my baby and my grandbaby, she said after a long moment.  Maybe now some other woman won’t. (p.56).

***

Synopsis:  The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

***

Would you keep reading?

***

REVIEW: I KNOW YOU KNOW, BY GILLY MACMILLAN

 

Twenty years ago, eleven-year-olds Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby were murdered in the city of Bristol, their bodies dumped near a dog racing track. A man was convicted of the brutal crime, but decades later, questions still linger.

For his whole life, filmmaker Cody Swift has been haunted by the deaths of his childhood best friends. The loose ends of the police investigation consume him so much that he decides to return to Bristol in search of answers. Hoping to uncover new evidence, and to encourage those who may be keeping long-buried secrets to speak up, Cody starts a podcast to record his findings. But there are many people who don’t want the case—along with old wounds—reopened so many years after the tragedy, especially Charlie’s mother, Jess, who decides to take matters into her own hands.

When a long-dead body is found in the same location the boys were left decades before, the disturbing discovery launches another murder investigation. Now Detective John Fletcher, the investigator on the original case, must reopen his dusty files and decide if the two murders are linked. With his career at risk, the clock is ticking and lives are in jeopardy…

My Thoughts: I Know You Know takes the reader back and forth in time, from 1996 to the present. A few characters show up repeatedly in both time periods, namely John Fletcher, the primary detective back then; Jessica Paige, Charlie’s mother; and Cody Swift, a friend to the murdered boys.

Past secrets link several of the characters, and how they have hidden from the past kept me turning the pages as I tried to sort out who did what to whom.

When Cody Swift starts a podcast to record his investigation into the murders, with the hope of overturning the conviction of Sidney Noyce, now deceased, his actions seem to be a good thing. Of course, he relentlessly pursues Jessica, trying to get her comments, and her refusal is reported on his show, too, driving her further into hiding.

We know John Fletcher has made some questionable choices in the original case. Is his effort to find answers now a way to make up for them, or his own brand of a cover-up?

In some ways, I had trouble sorting out the time periods and what happened in each situation, but in the end, I felt a sense of closure. Each of the characters was flawed, but someone would finally come out on top in terms of overcoming the past. 4.5 stars.

***

RAINY DAY EXCERPTS: “FIRST FLURRIES”

Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, First Chapter/Intros, originally hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea and now hosted by I’d Rather Be at the Beach; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by The Purple Booker.

Today’s feature is a review book from a favorite author:  First Flurries, by Joanne DeMaio, a novel snow-dusted with love and possibility.

 

 

Intro:  It’s time to leave.

Lindsay passes red barns and white picket fences along the winding country road.  When she drives by a man raking the last of autumn’s brown leaves, or a young couple walking a dog, they all stop and wave at her.  She gives her horn a friendly tap, accustomed to the attention now.  Something about seeing the tiny house towed behind her SUV brings out that happy response in passersby.  Might as well call her tiny house a happy house.  It makes people smile.

***

Teaser:  Together, they rumble into Snowflake Lake’s little parking area in twilight’s shadows.  Minutes later, Greg walks in the late-afternoon darkness directly to Gus’ Blue Jay Bungalow. (p. 58).

***

Synopsis:  Lindsey Haynes’ father once gave her a snow globe with the note: “Unsure where to go? Give a little shake … and your heart will always know.” On a whim, those words lead her to the quaint New England town of Addison. It’s a place straight out of a storybook with its twinkling town green, decorated Main Street, and secluded lakeside cabin community.

But an encounter with a dejected doctor named Greg Davis turns Lindsey’s days upside down, much like a snow globe in motion. With a little nudge from endearing townsfolk, and a few chance meetings of their own, a magical flurry of emotions suddenly swirls around them.

***

What do you think?  Do the excerpts draw you in?  Do you want to keep reading?  I love revisiting the storybook town of Addison, with friendly characters and settings.

***