REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, BY A. J. FINN

 

It isn’t paranoia if it’s really happening . . .

Anna Fox lives alone—a recluse in her New York City home, unable to venture outside. She spends her day drinking wine (maybe too much), watching old movies, recalling happier times . . . and spying on her neighbors.

Then the Russells move into the house across the way: a father, a mother, their teenage son. The perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble—and its shocking secrets are laid bare.

What is real? What is imagined? Who is in danger? Who is in control? In this diabolically gripping thriller, no one—and nothing—is what it seems.

My Thoughts: In the beginning of The Woman in the Window, we see only a glimpse of Anna’s life. We learn that she hasn’t left her house in ten months; that she takes a lot of medication and drinks too much; that she watches a lot of black and white movies like Vertigo and Rear Window; and that she meets other agoraphobic people in forums online. Plus, Anna watches the neighbors through her windows.

As we walk through the rooms of Anna’s house along with her, she narrates her passage for us; we can visualize the beauty of it all, with lots of space and lovely rooms. But it is also a very lonely place for someone who is virtually locked within those walls. Mostly what we notice about her home is the absence of the people she loves…and no explanation for their absence.

Slowly her story unfolds, and it will be a long while before we start to learn what happened to her. Flashbacks reveal bits and pieces as we rapidly turn the pages.

Then, as the story continues, we watch through her window with her, and what she sees will change everything for her. Now many people are harassing her; the cops do not believe her; and she is losing her grip more and more.

Even as I knew that she could be every bit as delusional as everyone thinks, another part of me did not really believe that. There were numerous creepy and suspicious characters, and since nothing is quite as it seems, anything is possible. It will be a long while before Anna puts the pieces together. How will she finally discover the truth? What will happen to her in the end? I felt breathless and thoroughly engaged as the intense moments near the end brought the story to a riveting and unexpected conclusion. 5 stars.***

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REVIEW: EAVES OF DESTRUCTION, BY KATE CARLISLE

 

At the annual Victorian Home and Garden Tour, Lighthouse Cove, California’s premier contractor, Shannon Hammer, realizes that the competition is about to turn deadly….

Shannon is in high demand among rival homeowners, who will do anything to win Best in Show. One-upmanship and even espionage break out among neighbors, construction crews, decorators, and landscapers. Thanks to several new hires, Shannon is sure she can handle the extra load—until murder throws a wrench in the works.

The small town’s corrupt building inspector is found dead on one of Shannon’s job sites, and soon plenty of suspects are coming out of the woodwork. When another body is discovered, Shannon calls on her team of close friends and devilishly astute thriller writer Mac to help her nail down the details and build a case against the killer before the door shuts on someone else—for good.

 

My Thoughts: In the beautiful little town of Lighthouse Cove, in Northern California, Shannon Hammer enjoys success with the construction company she inherited from her dad. Renovating beautiful Victorian houses is her specialty.

She also seems to find a lot of dead bodies, and her tendency to try to solve the mysteries is a fun part of the story.

I enjoyed her relationship with the mystery writer, Mac, and couldn’t help but love how she tried to solve another kind of mystery for her newest construction worker, Amanda Walsh.

Some of the characters were clearly suspects just because of their horrific personalities, while others just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Watching Shannon and her crew do their jobs, in addition to helping find the killer, kept me turning the pages of Eaves of Destruction. I also enjoy the TV show based on the books. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: LOST & FOUND SISTERS, BY JILL SHALVIS

 

After losing her sister in a devastating car accident, chef Quinn Weller is finally getting her life back on track. She appears to have it all: a loving family, a dream job in one of L.A.’s hottest eateries, and a gorgeous boyfriend dying to slip an engagement ring on her finger. So why does she feel so empty, like she’s looking for a missing piece she can’t find?

The answer comes when a lawyer tracks down Quinn and reveals a bombshell secret and a mysterious inheritance that only she can claim. This shocking revelation washes over Quinn like a tidal wave. Her whole life has been a lie.

On impulse, Quinn gives up her job, home, and boyfriend. She heads up the coast to the small hometown of Wildstone, California, which is just a few hours north, but feels worlds apart from Los Angeles. Though she doesn’t quite fit in right away, she can’t help but be drawn to the town’s simple pleasures…and the handsome, dark-haired stranger who offers friendship with no questions asked.

As Quinn settles into Wildstone, she discovers there’s another surprise in store for her. The inheritance isn’t a house or money, but rather something earthshattering, something that will make her question everything she thought she knew about herself, about her family. Now with a world of possibilities opening up to Quinn, she must decide if this new life is the one she was always meant to have—and the one that could finally give her the fulfillment she’s searched so long for.

 

My Thoughts: Unsettled by the bombshell news she receives at the beginning of Lost and Found Sisters, Quinn will struggle to accept the secrets of the past and develop connections she had never anticipated.

Wildstone feels like the kind of story book small town, in which news travels quickly from one hour to the next, and the people who live in the town feel friendly and warm. Except for the ones who are not.

Quinn is a likable character, and I had to admire how she dealt with everything, especially the most unexpected aspect of the lawyer’s news.

But as she begins to feel at home with her new normal, she also has to learn that not everyone in small town life is kind. Not everyone has good intentions. But with the love of her own team of supporters, she finds a way to fill the empty spaces inside. She finds a way to start over. A lovely story of building a family, overcoming the past, and making new connections. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WONDER VALLEY, BY IVY POCHODA

 

When a teen runs away from his father’s mysterious commune, he sets in motion a domino effect that will connect six characters desperate for hope and love, set across the sun-bleached canvas of Los Angeles.

From the acclaimed author of Visitation Street, a visionary portrait of contemporary Los Angeles in all its facets, from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific, from the 110 to Skid Row.

During a typically crowded morning commute, a naked runner is dodging between the stalled cars. The strange sight makes the local news and captures the imaginations of a stunning cast of misfits and lost souls.

There’s Ren, just out of juvie, who travels to LA in search of his mother. There’s Owen and James, teenage twins who live in a desert commune, where their father, a self-proclaimed healer, holds a powerful sway over his disciples. There’s Britt, who shows up at the commune harboring a dark secret. There’s Tony, a bored and unhappy lawyer who is inspired by the runner. And there’s Blake, a drifter hiding in the desert, doing his best to fight off his most violent instincts. Their lives will all intertwine and come crashing together in a shocking way, one that could only happen in this enchanting, dangerous city.

My Thoughts: In the present day, Wonder Valley begins with a typical LA commute that suddenly is no longer typical. A naked man is running against traffic and capturing the notice, the videos, and the imagination of a cast of characters whose lives will intersect over the next few days.

Back and forth in time we go, from 2006 to 2010, and we see into the lives of the characters who will all come together at moments in time.

A commune in the desert, in 2006, will be where Britt, the Flynn twins, several other lost souls, a man named Blake, and his ailing friend Sam will all connect. Before Blake and Sam arrive, however, we will join the group around the fire for their “sharing” moments, led by a man named Patrick. We will be reminded of the communes of the past, and even a little bit of a family named Manson. However, these members are not killing people…just each other with their angry and hostile confrontations in the name of therapy.

Fast forward to the commute, and we meet Tony, driving along the freeway, mourning his past mistakes and captivated by the naked runner. Something about the freedom of these moments leads to several detours he might otherwise not have made.

Ren has just been released from juvie…and he is looking for his mother, Laila. What he discovers is a camp of street dwellers and his mother…nothing like she once was.

We see the hard-edged grit of street life; the criminal element that includes people just struggling to make it; and the clash between the haves and the have-nots.

Can each of these characters find something valuable in these moments of connection? How will their journeys end? An enticing tale of connections, this story, with the back and forth pattern, was sometimes confusing. In the end, it all came together in the form of a mural captured by Ren, who memorialized the discoveries. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: LITTLE BROKEN THINGS, BY NICOLE BAART

 

I have something for you. When Quinn Cruz receives that cryptic text message from her older sister Nora, she doesn’t think much of it. They haven’t seen each other in nearly a year and thanks to Nora’s fierce aloofness, their relationship consists mostly of infrequent phone calls and an occasional email or text. But when a haunted Nora shows up at the lake near Quinn’s house just hours later, a chain reaction is set into motion that will change both of their lives forever.

Nora’s “something” is more shocking than Quinn could have ever imagined: a little girl, cowering, wide-eyed, and tight-lipped. Nora hands her over to Quinn with instructions to keep her safe, and not to utter a word about the child to anyone, especially not their buttoned-up mother who seems determined to pretend everything is perfect. But before Quinn can ask even one of the million questions swirling around her head, Nora disappears, and Quinn finds herself the unlikely caretaker of a girl introduced simply as Lucy.

While Quinn struggles to honor her sister’s desperate request and care for the lost, scared Lucy, she fears that Nora may have gotten involved in something way over her head—something that will threaten them all. But Quinn’s worries are nothing compared to the firestorm that Nora is facing. It’s a matter of life and death, of family and freedom, and ultimately, about the lengths a woman will go to protect the ones she loves.

 

 

My Thoughts: From the first page of Little Broken Things, I was captivated by the story of a child in hiding. Who was her mother? What about her father? And why did Quinn’s sister Nora bring this secret child to her in the middle of the night, with instructions to keep her safe, but with no answers to the big questions?

Quinn, married to Walker, has been wanting a child of her own, but it doesn’t take long for her to fall for this child called Lucy. Across the lake, Quinn’s mother Liz lives in the family home, staring at the little A-frame house she has rented to her daughter…and wanting to be a part of her life. She pushes her way in the next day, and discovers the child.

Meanwhile, Nora is still at large, and somehow her connection to her high school friend Tiffany becomes another piece of the story. How does the death of Tiffany’s aunt and guardian play a role in the unfolding story?

We watch as the alternating narrators tell bits of the tale, and I thought I had it all figured out…but at the last minute, we are thrown one more piece of the puzzle, one that changes our view of things…and now the broken pieces are starting to make sense. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: A BELLA FLORA CHRISTMAS, BY WENDY WAX

 

Although their lives have changed since their first desperate renovation of Bella Flora, friends Madeline, Avery, and Nicole have always been there for each other. Now they’re returning to Bella Flora for Christmas—where Maddie’s daughter Kyra isn’t feeling particularly celebratory.
 
Kyra was hoping for a peaceful holiday at Bella Flora—a last gathering before a wealthy, mystery tenant moves into the home she’s been forced to rent out. Instead, she must make a life altering decision by New Year’s — a decision that becomes even more difficult when unexpected guests arrive at Ten Beach Road on Christmas Eve. Now Kyra, Maddie, Avery and Nikki will need to pull together to secure Bella Flora’s future, as well as their own.

My Thoughts: I have followed this series since Book One, so I was excited to experience A Bella Flora Christmas, a novella that helped to satiate me until the next book comes in the spring.

In this story, our first person narrator is Kyra, Maddie’s daughter and Dustin’s mother. She is the young woman who had an affair with celebrity Daniel Deranian when working on a film with him, and then began paying the consequences when her son was born…without benefit of being with Daniel.

Now four years old, Dustin is the joy of her life, but her current dilemma has to do with something his father has requested. He wants Dustin to perform with him in a movie…but not only with him, with his wife Tonja Kay. Tonja Kay has been vindictive and threatening since the beginning, so part of Kyra’s hesitation has to do with not wanting to satisfy the woman who has the man, and who now is calling the shots, complete with threats.

What will Kyra decide to do? And how will she, her mother, and her son fare when they move out of Bella Flora, which has been rented out to an unknown person?

I had hoped that we would learn the identity of that renter, but that information will probably come in the next book. And while Kyra has made a decision about the movie, we are left hanging, not knowing how the news is delivered. An enjoyable read that is teasing me about the upcoming release. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WITHOUT MERIT, BY COLLEEN HOOVER

 

 

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines, when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

My Thoughts: In Merit’s first person narrative, we follow the story in Without Merit. It is easy to empathize with her pain, as she is up front about how she feels in her family. Excluded, ignored, and blamed for everything that goes wrong.

When she meets Sagan in an antique store, he kisses her, mistaking her for her identical twin Honor; after he realizes his error and backs away, her feelings of self-worth plummet. Over the next couple of weeks, she shuts herself off from everyone while she clings to some mistaken thoughts and feelings about the relationship between Sagan and Honor.

Seeing events from Merit’s point of view, it was easy to hate on Honor, her brother Utah, and even the newest house guest, Luck, who turned out to be stepmother Victoria’s half-brother. Just when I thought I couldn’t hate the rest of her family more, a near tragic event forced a turnaround, and they all began to share their feelings with one another. After a lot of in-fighting and anger in the process, big secrets came out, including what none of them knew about their agoraphobic mother who has been living in the basement.

Can a family as dysfunctional as the Voss tribe discover new ways to relate to one another? Can Merit realize that the family will not be better off without her?

The story held its share of melodrama, but since the characters were mostly teenagers, their reactions to events were probably on target. I loved the story in the beginning, and then I started to find all the characters annoying. The positive feelings took a dive when the family did an abrupt about face, which seemed a bit unrealistic. I do like stories with hopeful endings, however, so this one earned 4 stars.

***

BOOK REVIEW: MERRY & BRIGHT, BY DEBBIE MACOMBER

 

Merry Knight is pretty busy these days. She’s taking care of her family, baking cookies, decorating for the holidays, and hoping to stay out of the crosshairs of her stressed and by-the-book boss at the consulting firm where she temps. Her own social life is the last thing she has in mind, much less a man. Without her knowledge, Merry’s well-meaning mom and brother create an online dating profile for her—minus her photo—and the matches start rolling in. Initially, Merry is incredulous, but she reluctantly decides to give it a whirl.

Soon Merry finds herself chatting with a charming stranger, a man with similar interests and an unmistakably kind soul. Their online exchanges become the brightest part of her day. But meeting face-to-face is altogether different, and her special friend is the last person Merry expects—or desires. Still, sometimes hearts can see what our eyes cannot. In this satisfying seasonal tale, unanticipated love is only a click away.

 


My Thoughts: From the first page of Merry and Bright, I was swept away into this romantic tale of finding love in the 21st Century, with online dating sites proliferating all around.

I also enjoyed the play on the characters’ names: Merry Knight works for Jayson Bright…and their worlds could not be more different. At work, he seems cranky and stressed and a little bit annoying, with his stick-to-the-rules regime.

After her mother and brother create an online profile for Merry, she finds herself connecting and regularly chatting with someone named Jay…who, coincidentally, also shows his dog as his profile photo.

What will happen when the two decide to meet? Merry can’t believe what she discovers as she approaches the Starbucks meeting place. How could she have been so naïve?

In the rest of the story, we see how misunderstandings, near misses, and unexpected events bring them to a point of reexamining what they thought they knew. Delightful holiday feels in a setting I love: Seattle. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE STORIED LIFE OF A. J. FIKRY, BY GABRIELLE ZEVIN

 

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over–and see everything anew.   

My Thoughts: When I downloaded The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, I was looking forward to reading it…and expected to do so very soon. But life got in the way…and other books seemed to take precedence. So here I am, three years later, wondering what possessed me to let this charming book languish on my shelf.

But timing is everything, and when I did pick up this book, I fully immersed myself in it and felt a deep connection to the characters, the setting, and the feeling of being surrounded by books in one’s daily life.

I loved the idea of getting on a ferry and going to Alice Island to a charming bookstore, and I felt myself joining the character Amelia Loman, a publisher’s representative, as she made her first journey out there. Her first reactions to A.J. Fikry, a gruff and somewhat blunt character kept me turning the pages, happily enjoying the growing connection between Amelia and A.J.

And then there was Maya, a baby left in the bookstore with a note for A.J.

The story followed the characters over a period of years, and I couldn’t wait to see what each of them would do with their lives. Books were always the centerpiece, and when obstacles arose, or sadness came calling, the books carried them all along. The books helped them connect to characters, but also to others with whom they could talk about books. Definitely a sentiment to which bookish people can relate. 5 stars.

***

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.

***