REVIEW: OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, BY KENT HARUF

 

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away, her son even farther, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in empty houses, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. But maybe that could change? As Addie and Louis come to know each other better–their pleasures and their difficulties–a beautiful story of second chances unfolds, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature.

My Thoughts: In this short, yet sweet novel, we meet an unusual pair of senior citizens. They offer an opportunity for the reader to look beneath the surface and see them as more than two people near the ends of their lives. They felt like real people, more than a stereotypical elderly pair. They are no longer just two people we might have overlooked due to their ages. But when they begin their experiment to spend their nights together, Addie and Louis become fodder for town gossip. Small town folks have definite opinions about what they think Addie and Louis are doing…but others find their get-togethers inspiring.

Growing older does not mean one has to go on a shelf, although Addie’s son Gene is outraged enough that he steps in. His take on their friendship is dark and not just judgmental. He makes a threat that will change everything for the two of them.

But can he create a permanent wedge between them? Or will they find another way?

I loved Our Souls at Night, which I downloaded after recommendations from others…and because the movie based on the book is coming soon. Now I can’t wait! 5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: A STRANGER IN THE HOUSE, BY SHARI LAPENA

Karen and Tom Krupp are happy—they’ve got a lovely home in upstate New York, they’re practically newlyweds, and they have no kids to interrupt their comfortable life together. But one day, Tom returns home to find Karen has vanished—her car’s gone and it seems she left in a rush. She even left her purse—complete with phone and ID—behind.

There’s a knock on the door—the police are there to take Tom to the hospital where his wife has been admitted. She had a car accident, and lost control as she sped through the worst part of town.

The accident has left Karen with a concussion and a few scrapes.  Still, she’s mostly okay—except that she can’t remember what she was doing or where she was when she crashed. The cops think her memory loss is highly convenient, and they suspect she was up to no good. 

Karen returns home with Tom, determined to heal and move on with her life. Then she realizes something’s been moved. Something’s not quite right. Someone’s been in her house. And the police won’t stop asking questions.

Because in this house, everyone’s a stranger. Everyone has something they’d rather keep hidden. Something they might even kill to keep quiet.

My Thoughts: A story that wrapped itself around me from the first page, A Stranger in the House takes us into the world of Karen and Tom, living in upstate New York in a lovely neighborhood. But then, one night, everything changed.

Karen’s accident in a sketchy neighborhood left her with amnesia, but also with detectives appearing on her doorstep regularly, asking questions, looking at her as if they don’t believe her. They even turn their skepticism on Tom. Because now it is not just an investigation into an accident, but something more happened that night, and Karen and Tom are both looking like suspects.

Across the street, Brigid is watching, too. Supposedly Karen’s best friend, she has secrets…and reasons to keep them. Why is she obsessed with Tom and Karen?

Besides the cops and the investigation, there is more. Who is skulking around in Karen’s house, moving things, messing things up just enough that she will know it?

I am one of those people who always knows when someone has moved my things, just a bit. It drives me mad! Karen cleverly has started taking photos before she leaves the house. What will she discover?

A captivating story that held me in its grip until the very end, not knowing who to trust and who might be the stranger in the house. Then came a stunning twist I did not expect. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HEARTBREAK HOTEL, BY JONATHAN KELLERMAN

 

At nearly one hundred years old, Thalia Mars is a far cry from the patients that child psychologist Alex Delaware normally treats. But the charming, witty woman convinces Alex to meet with her in a suite at the Aventura, a luxury hotel with a checkered history.

What Thalia wants from Alex are answers to unsettling questions—about guilt, patterns of criminal behavior, victim selection. When Alex asks the reason for her morbid fascination, Thalia promises to tell all during their next session. But when he shows up the following morning, he is met with silence: Thalia is dead in her room.

When questions arise about how Thalia perished, Alex and homicide detective Milo Sturgis must peel back the layers of a fascinating but elusive woman’s life and embark on one of the most baffling investigations either of them has ever experienced. For Thalia Mars is a victim like no other, an enigma who harbored nearly a century of secrets and whose life and death draw those around her into a vortex of violence.

My Thoughts: Heartbreak Hotel begins with an apparently straightforward meeting between Alex Delaware and an almost one-hundred-year-old woman, and then veers off into a series of murders, all seemingly connected to her in some way.

How did Thalia become so wealthy, when her career as a CPA seemed to suggest a more modest financial portfolio? Who are the seemingly nefarious people surrounding her through the years, and what, if anything, does a certain mobster have to do with her wealth? And with her death? Could an unsolved jewel heist in Beverly Hills bring in more possible suspects?

I always enjoy watching Alex and Milo work their cases, seemingly finding connections when others cannot. The author also shows us a peek into their personal lives, like Alex’s longstanding relationship with Robin, and their gorgeous house in Beverly Glen, and Milo Sturgis’s long term relationship with Rick, a doctor.

Sometimes I believe that Alex and Milo have nothing else to do but work on whatever case has taken over a particular book…but then we see them juggling other cases, too, forming a somewhat realistic picture of their days.

I started to get a little dizzy from all the possibilities in this book, but then as we began checking off the red herrings, I was almost ready to guess what person or persons in the past had come back to haunt poor Thalia. Almost. But there were some final surprises in this enjoyable book that earned 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: AFTER SHE FELL, BY MARY-JANE RILEY

Catriona needs help. Her seventeen-year-old daughter Elena was found dead at the bottom of a cliff near her boarding school. The death has been ruled a suicide, but Catriona isn’t convinced.

When her old friend, journalist Alex Devlin, arrives in Hallow’s Edge to investigate, she quickly finds that life at private boarding school The Drift isn’t as idyllic as the bucolic setting might suggest.

Amidst a culture of drug-taking, bullying and tension between school and village, no one is quite who they seem to be, and there are several people who might have wanted Elena to fall…

My Thoughts: I was immediately caught up in Alex’s quest to find answers. Soon after she settles into the cottage provided by Catriona Devonshire, she is threatened, hassled, and even beaten up.

I liked Alex Devlin, and enjoyed a previous book in which she dealt with the aftermath of a family tragedy.

Set near London, After She Fell was a story that had me rooting for the main characters. I liked how Alex persisted in her attempt to find out the truth, and how she managed to keep going despite the efforts of the people of Hallow’s Edge to block her.

What, if anything, does Elena’s stepfather Mark have to do with events? How are the teen druggies involved? Are the posh girls somehow connected to how things play out? What responsibility did the school head play in what happened?

Our first person primary narrator was Alex, but we alternately see Elena’s perspective providing us with clues, just weeks before she died. As we follow the bread crumbs, we finally realize the truth in the story that kept me engaged throughout. The pace was a bit slow at times, but the characters intrigued me. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO, BY TAYLOR JENKINS REID

 

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband has left her, and her professional life is going nowhere. Regardless of why Evelyn has selected her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s luxurious apartment, Monique listens in fascination as the actress tells her story. From making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the ‘80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way, Evelyn unspools a tale of ruthless ambition, unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love. Monique begins to feel a very real connection to the legendary star, but as Evelyn’s story near its conclusion, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My Thoughts: For all those who love iconic celebrities, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo might just be the most addictive read ever.

I was quickly drawn into Evelyn’s story, as told to young writer Monique Grant, and although the dual narratives and timelines could have been challenging, they were seamless and captivating. As if the two women, decades apart and so different in life experiences, had suddenly developed one voice, Evelyn’s story flowed, and when there was a pause, we had the opportunity to peek into Monique’s Manhattan life as a newly single woman going through a divorce.

The stunning reveal at the end was one I truly did not see coming. It answered questions I had, however, about why Monique was singled out to write Evelyn’s memoir.

By the end, I did not want to say goodbye to either character, as I was caught up in the lives of both women. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, BY MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

 

Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls.

When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever…

My Thoughts: I was caught up in the lives of the alternating narrators of The Secrets She Keeps. Both Agatha and Meghan have secrets, but we only learn them in bits and pieces as the story unfolds. Sadness and incredible loss greet Agatha each day of her life. For Meghan, disappointment and betrayal are a familiar part of her world, despite what her life looks like to others.

Meghan’s life seemed perfect on the surface, but the cracks in the veneer began to appear about the same time that we realize that Agatha is a bit of a stalker. Why is Agatha spying on Meghan, and what does she plan to do about what she discovers? How will Meghan keep her own secrets hidden?

At first, I couldn’t believe what was happening, so I focused completely on their lives as the incredible events began to reveal themselves to us.

Like lives on a collision course, the world for each of these women is teetering and spinning out of control. Who will still be standing when it is over? Or is there hope for them both?

To avoid spoilers, I will say no more about what happens to the women and the families at the center of it all. Suffice it to say that I was riveted to the pages of this five star read.

***

REVIEW: SWIMMING LESSONS, BY CLAIRE FULLER

From the author of the award-winning and word-of-mouth sensation Our Endless Numbered Days comes an exhilarating literary mystery that will keep readers guessing until the final page.

Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.  

Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage. 

My Thoughts: The alternating narratives in Swimming Lessons truly captivated me. One narrator was Ingrid, wife and mother, who has written a plethora of letters to her husband Gil, whom she addresses as “you” in these missives. She is finally having a conversation with him, one which he cannot ignore or dismiss. She is venting about their troubled marriage and the ways in which her life was a disappointment. There are, however, some brighter moments in her letters…mostly about their lives before she had to give up her dreams. Her dreams of an education and her own writing career. The education which she was unable to complete because of the university’s rules regarding married/pregnant students.

Ingrid’s letters were written in 1992, just before she seemingly drowned (or disappeared). She speaks mostly of their lives in the 1970s…but also touches on the later years.

Third person narrators included Gil and Flora. We see Nan from Flora’s perspective, and I didn’t like her very much, probably because she tends to dismiss Flora’s thoughts and ideas, and treats her like a young child. Nan apparently took on the mother’s role after she was gone. Later on, we see a kinder version of her.

Gil seemed like a very selfish man, but since his present day situation shows him troubled and ill, I did feel some sympathy for him.

I loved the descriptions of the book lined rooms and hallways. Stacks of books, sometimes two or three deep, surrounded them all. The fact that Ingrid’s letters were placed in the books in a somewhat planned fashion added to the intrigue of the story.

Would Gil find the letters? Would he finally understand what his wife had been trying to say all those years? Would there be answers to their questions? What stunning events happened to bring the story to a riveting conclusion? And who is the mysterious woman who keeps showing up in Hadleigh? A 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN, BY NICCI FRENCH

Psychotherapist Dr Frieda Klein once again finds herself in the midst of a criminal investigation when the rotting body of an ex-policeman is found beneath the floorboards of her house.

The corpse is only months old but the main suspect, murderer Dean Reeve, died over seven years ago.

As the killer picks off his next victims and her home is turned into a crime scene, Frieda’s old life seems like a hazy dream.

With eyes of the world upon her and no answers from the police, Frieda realizes that she will have to track this killer before he tracks down those she loves.

My Thoughts: I have been a fan of this series from the very first outing. Some readers find Frieda Klein to be unlikable, but I am not one of them. Yes, she is determined, and she pursues her goals, even when others disagree with her; she has no qualms about telling others when they are wrong. She is almost always right, too, which annoys the police.

She loves London, and her famous walks through the streets when she is trying to think, to solve a problem, are a big part of her routines. She is a bit obsessive in these routines, but as a reader, I take comfort in how she goes through her days following these patterns. I can count on her to take certain actions when others will not.

I also like how she enjoys her cozy mews house, so when this book opens with the discovery of a dead body under the floor boards of that house, we know that Frieda will be deeply affected.

But what happens next will be even more disturbing. Someone appears to be copying Frieda’s nemesis Dean Reeve, the perpetrator in previous murders that the police do not believe is still alive. Now her friends and loved ones are being targeted. That same Someone is sending Frieda a message. When she figures out who, someone the police have not even suspected, she has a hard time convincing them.

One more person, a police detective, almost dies before they finally get the message.

But will the perpetrator be captured? Will the police finally find Dean Reeve? The ending left me in a quandary. Is the series done, leaving so many loose ends? Or will there be another outing? No matter what, I loved this series and Sunday Morning Coming Down. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: GIRL IN SNOW, BY DANYA KUKAFTA

When a beloved high schooler named Lucinda Hayes is found murdered, no one in her sleepy Colorado suburb is untouched—not the boy who loved her too much; not the girl who wanted her perfect life; not the officer assigned to investigate her murder. In the aftermath of the tragedy, these three indelible characters—Cameron, Jade, and Russ—must each confront their darkest secrets in an effort to find solace, the truth, or both. In crystalline prose, Danya Kukafka offers a brilliant exploration of identity and of the razor-sharp line between love and obsession, between watching and seeing, between truth and memory.

My Thoughts: Flowing back and forth in time, via alternating narrators, the life and death of a young teenager living in a small Colorado town is shown through the eyes of her watchers; and then we follow their meandering and introspective thoughts about their own lives.

Who were these watchers, and which of them could have taken her life? Or could the perpetrator be someone completely different, someone not on our radar at all?

Cameron was described by other students as a stalker and a boy most likely to bring a gun to school. Actually, he was a budding artist and loved drawing what he could see.

Jade is an abused girl, someone unafraid to push her way into the inner circles, only to be ignored or taunted. She believes that Lucinda stole her boyfriend. Throughout, we see snippets of her writing in the form of a screenplay.

Russ, a police officer, has some secrets from the past. He once had a partner named Lee Whitley, Cameron’s dad, whose actions led to an arrest and his disappearance from town. What had Russ been willing to do to cover for his partner?

Girl in Snow kept me engaged throughout, although it was sometimes difficult to connect with the characters; we saw them only in bits and pieces, and sometimes, like a shift in a kaleidoscope, we watched them morph abruptly into the past.

I was surprised by the reveal at the end, and while it made sense, there were no hints of this person’s culpability ahead of time. After the revelations, there were moments in which we saw the lives of the other characters as they started to move on. I did like knowing what was ahead for them. 4 stars.

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

REVIEW: EVERY WILD HEART, BY MEG DONOHUE

Passionate and funny, radio personality Gail Gideon is a true original. Nine years ago when Gail’s husband announced that he wanted a divorce, her ensuing on-air rant propelled her local radio show into the national spotlight. Now, “The Gail Gideon Show” is beloved by millions of single women who tune-in for her advice on the power of self-reinvention. But fame comes at a price. After all, what does a woman who has staked her career on being single do when she finds herself falling in love? And is the person who is harassing her in increasingly troubling ways a misguided fan or a true danger to Gail and her daughter, Nic?

Fourteen-year-old Nic has always felt that she pales in comparison to her vibrant, outgoing mother. Plagued by a fear of social situations, she is most comfortable at the stable where she spends her afternoons. But when a riding accident lands Nic in the hospital, she awakens from her coma changed. Suddenly, she has no fear at all and her disconcerting behavior lands her in one risky situation after another. And no one, least of all her mother, can guess what she will do next…

My Thoughts: I love a good mother/daughter tale, and a single mother raising a teenager resonates with me.

Gail is one of those characters I enjoy: feisty, opinionated, protective, talented, and smart. She is famous for all of those qualities on her radio show, and although she works at night and her daughter is at school in the daytime, they still manage to keep in touch.

But Nic’s form of social anxiety worries her mother…and then when she has the horse riding accident, everything changes. It is as if a part of Nic, a wild side, has been awakened. Part of that awakening came in the form of a boy named Lucas Holt, a senior boy drawn to her, just as she was to him.

Every Wild Heart kept me engaged all the way through, and I enjoyed the alternating narratives of Gail and Nic. Seeing each perspective kept me rooting for each of them.

I wanted Gail to succeed, and a great offer for her to do a TV show was very tempting for her, but with all that Nic was going through, she was struggling with the decision. What would ultimately bring out the best in each of them without the other being sidelined? How would they find a way to work through the fearsome times? How would a sudden stalker threatening Gail and Nic bring the story to a crashing conclusion?

I was stunned by the stalker reveal…and then the pieces fell into place for Gail and Nic moving forward. 4 stars.

***