REVIEW: ALL THE BEST PEOPLE, BY SONJA YOERG

 

Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.
 
But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.

My Thoughts: All the Best People takes the reader on an emotional journey into one family’s past; into the hidden corners of their lives, with the dark secrets that determined their fates.

Multiple narrators tell the story, a non-linear probe that takes the reader back and forth in time, starting in the present, but then showing the beginning of Solange’s marriage to Osborne, delving into their dynamics. We learn about the dark side of their marriage that led to Solange’s big mistake one night…and which ended up with her spending most of her life locked away in a psychiatric facility.

Discovering the truth might have been too little too late, for by the time the doctors learned the appropriate course of treatment for Solange, she had wasted away most of her life. In the end, however, the major revelations led to healing for Carole and her family. I was sad that it was almost too late for Solange, since most of her life had been spent locked up unnecessarily.

The story offers an awareness of the changes in the mental health system over the years, and fortunately shines a light on the errors that sentenced people to overly medicated lives with no chance of recovery. 4 stars.

***
Advertisements

REVIEW: SEVEN DAYS OF US, BY FRANCESCA HORNAK

 

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.
 
For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems. 
 
As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.   
 
In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…

My Thoughts: In alternating narratives, Seven Days of Us revealed the Birch family dynamics, showing us how each family member experienced the enforced togetherness.

Olivia, back home from saving lives in Liberia, was my favorite character. She was definitely not that thrilled to be in such close proximity to her family members, since she had been away and following her own path for years.

Emma, the matriarch, was definitely someone used to giving of herself, even to her own detriment. Her secret will change her life and her family going forward.

Phoebe, as the youngest and the only one of the offspring still living at home (at twenty-nine!) was an annoying, entitled brat, IMO. Everything all week long was all about her and her marriage plans. It was interesting to watch how things changed for her when her fiancé made a big and unexpected decision. She started to show a little bit of empathy for others.

Andrew, the patriarch, seemed oblivious to much that was going on, but when the surprise guest arrived, he began to look at life differently, even starting to assess some of his choices.

The setting of the dilapidated cottage surrounded by beautiful countryside brought me right into the lives of this English family, and I could imagine spending a week there in real life. The ending brought some good and some sad moments for the characters. There was something to savor in this story that felt so real, and earned 5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: THE SURROGATE, BY LOUISE JENSEN

 

Kat and her husband Nick have tried everything to become parents. All they want is a child to love but they are beginning to lose hope. Then a chance encounter with Kat’s childhood friend Lisa gives them one last chance. 

Kat and Lisa were once as close as sisters. The secrets they share mean their trust is for life… Or is it?

Just when the couple’s dream seems within reach, Kat begins to suspect she’s being watched and Nick is telling her lies.

Are the cracks appearing in Kat’s perfect picture of the future all in her head, or should she be scared for the lives of herself and her family?

My Thoughts: From the very beginning of The Surrogate, I was worried about Kat and Nick’s plan to use her childhood friend Lisa as their surrogate. There were so many red flags for me, and I thought that Kat should have been more wary. There were the secrets and lies about what happened to Jake, Lisa’s twin; and then there was something between Lisa and a troubled boy Aaron that suggested some kind of conspiracy between them.

Was Lisa lying about being pregnant? Why did she keep demanding more money from Kat and Nick? Why does she keep Kat away from the doctor appointments?

Then there was Nick’s childhood friend Richard, who is cold and secretive, too. What is he hiding? Did he sabotage Kat and Nick’s attempted adoptions?

Kat’s fears grow along with her suspicions. Who, if anyone, can she trust? Can she even trust Nick, who seems to be lying about so many things? Is he having an affair?

When the answers to the questions are finally revealed, it might be too late for any of them. I couldn’t stop turning the pages, and I didn’t see the truth taking the shape that it did. What I had suspected turned into something completely different…and almost unbelievable. 4 stars.

***

 

REVIEW: ODD CHILD OUT, BY GILLY MACMILLAN

 

How well do you know the people you love…?

Best friends Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad have always been inseparable. But when Noah is found floating unconscious in Bristol’s Feeder Canal, Abdi can’t–or won’t–tell anyone what happened.

Just back from a mandatory leave following his last case, Detective Jim Clemo is now assigned to look into this unfortunate accident. But tragedy strikes and what looked like the simple case of a prank gone wrong soon ignites into a public battle. Noah is British. Abdi is a Somali refugee. And social tensions have been rising rapidly in Bristol. Against this background of fear and fury two families fight for their sons and for the truth. Neither of them know how far they will have to go, what demons they will have to face, what pain they will have to suffer.

Because the truth hurts.

 

 

My Thoughts: Set in Bristol, a community in the UK, Odd Child Out is a story of friendship, of betrayal, of loss, and of people from very different worlds brought together in unexpected ways.

The author portrays the boys, Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad, through the eyes of their families and also from their own perspectives.

Because of his illness, Noah comes across as a self-absorbed teenager, possibly with a sense of entitlement, but in the end, we see more depth to him. We learn that, in many ways, he is also thinking of others when he takes certain dangerous actions.

Abdi has struggled with life in the UK, and even though he doesn’t remember the country from which they came, his family shows him what that world was like through the years as they carry on despite their struggles. Secrets that will come back to haunt them all drive Abdi to take some risky steps, while struggling with a terrible incident involving Noah and the Feeder Canal. Not knowing the truth lends itself to self-blame and bold actions.

DI Jim Clemo’s narrative added that extra piece to the story, showing the reader how the police deal with the social tensions of a community divided by their fear and fury. His own poor choices in a previous case add to the caution he takes with this one. But in the end, he follows his best instincts and brings in a good outcome.

Letters written by Noah and found afterwards evoked great emotion in the characters…and in this reader. There were plodding aspects to the tale, but overall, it was a beautifully wrought story that earned 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: HER LAST GOODBYE, BY MELINDA LEIGH

 

Young mother Chelsea Clark leaves the house for a girls’ night out…and vanishes. Her family knows she would never voluntarily leave her two small children. Her desperate husband—also the prime suspect—hires Morgan to find his wife and prove his innocence.

As a single mother, Morgan sympathizes with Chelsea’s family and is determined to find her. She teams up with private investigator Lance Kruger. But the deeper they dig, the deadlier their investigation gets. When Morgan is stalked by a violent predator, everything—and everyone—she holds dear is in grave danger.

Now, Morgan must track down a deranged criminal to protect her own family…but she won’t need to leave home to find him. She’s his next target.

My Thoughts: From the very first page of Her Last Goodbye, I was immersed in this newest story in the Morgan Dane Series.

Morgan and Lance have a new client, Tim Clark, whose wife Chelsea has gone missing, and they are concerned because of the Sheriff’s attitude of focusing primarily on Tim as a suspect. Their work is cut out for them; finding Chelsea and smoothing the Sheriff’s ruffled feathers. Tim worked at a company called Speed Net, and checking out the employees was one of their first steps.

Chelsea is an alternate narrator in this story, so we know right away that she has been abducted. From her perspective, we learn that she is chained inside some kind of container with no windows, and that her abductor wears a mask.

Juggling the care of her three daughters with this newest case, and also handling health issues now arising with her grandfather, Morgan is even more stressed than usual.

So when one of their suspects seems to be stalking Morgan, the intensity ratchets up…and even after their investigation moves forward, greater potential harm to Morgan comes out of left field. Who is the perpetrator, and why is he now targeting Morgan? Could he be one of the sex offenders in the area, or someone they had previously overlooked? After running investigations on numerous employees, Morgan inadvertently stumbled upon an omission that could make all the difference.

Rather than risk further run-ins with the Sheriff, Morgan and Lance try something very dangerous…which leads to success.

I literally held my breath through many scenes in this book, so I am definitely giving this one 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: CARDINAL CABIN, BY JOANNE DEMAIO

 

Frank Lombardo’s never been spontaneous. The closest he’s come was accepting a side job chopping firewood for a lakeside community of rustic cabins. But with another lonely holiday season imminent, Frank’s sister urges him to be spontaneous because, seriously, who does he ever expect to meet out in the woods?

With a suitcase in hand and a bit of reluctance, too, Penny Hart arrives at Cardinal Cabin on Snowflake Lake. It’s only for a brief stay, though nobody knows where she is. Not her boss, not her friends…

Only Frank Lombardo. As the two unexpectedly meet at Addison’s hidden hideaway, a spontaneous kiss sets everything amiss. But can the magic of this quaint New England town keep these snowy sweethearts together?

My Thoughts: Winter in New England comes alive in Cardinal Cabin, as the author paints gorgeous word pictures of the snowy setting and gifts us with images of the interiors. I could see the little cabin that Penny Hart has rented, from the outside cardinal door knocker to the milk can holding sprigs of pine needles…and can sense how she might feel as though she has stepped into a Christmas card. We follow her as she immerses herself in her surroundings.

And then there is Frank Lombardo, the man who is not spontaneous, suddenly captivated by Penny with the copper hair. He is chopping wood when he hears her cry out; she has slipped and fallen. Picking her up leads to an unexpected and spontaneous connection.

Familiar characters reappear in Addison, where I’ve enjoyed visits in previous books. I like how the old favorite characters return, and then we meet some new ones. And along the way, we get to visit places like the Snowflakes & Coffee Cakes and Whole Latte shops.

The romance between Frank and Penny grows unexpectedly. Meanwhile, Penny settles in to her vacation, snapping photos to email to her office: she is a travel agent at Suitcase Escapes, and a contest is going on at the agency. Contestants must guess where Penny has gone for her getaway. She doesn’t like to travel, so her clever destination choice keeps her close to what she loves.

Near misses, some hilarious disguises, and a bad storm follow. Will the new pairing survive the New England winter and the hiding out required by the contest? Can a misunderstanding derail what they have begun? A beautifully wrought tale that made me want to spend Christmas in Addison, along with the characters. 5 stars.

 ***

REVIEW: THE RULES OF MAGIC, BY ALICE HOFFMAN

 

For the Owens family, love is a curse that began in 1620, when Maria Owens was charged with witchery for loving the wrong man.

Hundreds of years later, in New York City at the cusp of the sixties, when the whole world is about to change, Susanna Owens knows that her three children are dangerously unique. Difficult Franny, with skin as pale as milk and blood red hair, shy and beautiful Jet, who can read other people’s thoughts, and charismatic Vincent, who began looking for trouble on the day he could walk.

From the start Susanna sets down rules for her children: No walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. And most importantly, never, ever, fall in love. But when her children visit their Aunt Isabelle, in the small Massachusetts town where the Owens family has been blamed for everything that has ever gone wrong, they uncover family secrets and begin to understand the truth of who they are. Back in New York City each begins a risky journey as they try to escape the family curse.

The Owens children cannot escape love even if they try, just as they cannot escape the pains of the human heart. The two beautiful sisters will grow up to be the revered, and sometimes feared, aunts in Practical Magic, while Vincent, their beloved brother, will leave an unexpected legacy. Thrilling and exquisite, real and fantastical, The Rules of Magic is a story about the power of love reminding us that the only remedy for being human is to be true to yourself.

My Thoughts: In the early part of The Rules of Magic, when Franny, Jet, and Vincent were children, I struggled to stay interested. I only connected with the story when the characters grew into adulthood. The magic, curses, and potions were the least interesting aspects for me. I did enjoy the setting and the era: Manhattan in the 1960s, with a short summer visit to Aunt Isabelle’s home in Boston. Massachusetts was a dreaded place, according to their parents, who clung to the old stories of witches being burned at the stake there.

The children, however, loved the relative freedom of Aunt Isabelle’s home. Her rules were simple: 1) Do as you will, but harm no one; 2) What you give will be returned to you threefold; 3) Fall in love whenever you can.

As we follow the adventures of the siblings, we learn a bit more about the ways they strive to avoid love…and how they each fail at it in some way or another. Tragic things do happen around love, but is it because they allowed love into their lives, or because they are human?

Would they find their own answers? Would they finally come to terms with the love issue? How does this prequel set things up for Practical Magic, the story that follows? 4 stars.

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

REVIEW: I’LL HAVE WHAT SHE’S HAVING, BY ERIN CARLSON

 

In I’ll Have What She’s Having entertainment journalist Erin Carlson tells the story of the real Nora Ephron and how she reinvented the rom-com through her trio of instant classics. With a cast of famous faces including Rob Reiner, Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, and Billy Crystal, Carlson takes readers on a rollicking, revelatory trip to Ephron’s New York City, where reality took a backseat to romance and Ephron–who always knew what she wanted and how she wanted it–ruled the set with an attention to detail that made her actors feel safe but sometimes exasperated crew members.

Along the way, Carlson examines how Ephron explored in the cinema answers to the questions that plagued her own romantic life and how she regained faith in love after one broken engagement and two failed marriages. Carlson also explores countless other questions Ephron’s fans have wondered about: What sparked Reiner to snap out of his bachelor blues during the making of When Harry Met Sally? Why was Ryan, a gifted comedian trapped in the body of a fairytale princess, not the first choice for the role? After she and Hanks each separately balked at playing Mail’s Kathleen Kelly and Sleepless’ Sam Baldwin, what changed their minds? And perhaps most importantly: What was Dave Chappelle doing … in a turtleneck? An intimate portrait of a one of America’s most iconic filmmakers and a look behind the scenes of her crowning achievements, I’ll Have What She’s Having is a vivid account of the days and nights when Ephron, along with assorted cynical collaborators, learned to show her heart on the screen.

My Thoughts: As a fan of Nora Ephron’s writing, and also of how she brought her unique vision to some of my favorite movies, I couldn’t wait to plunge into I’ll Have What She’s Having.

Who knew the tedious details that go into a movie, not to mention the conflicts along the way with various actors, crew members, and the production companies involved?

Watching as the stories and movies came to life was an interesting aspect to this book.

Visualizing how the sets were created was another fun part for me. I love movies and the sets are oftentimes my favorite parts, as the characters lead their lives in their various apartments and homes, not to mention the restaurants and bookstores.

Throughout the book, we learn about Nora Ephron’s other books and movies, and how, even as she fought the illness that would take her life too soon, she kept working and striving. An iconic woman who inspires others. 5 stars.***

 

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.

***

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.

***