REVIEW: THE IDEA OF YOU, BY AMANDA PROWSE

With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.

But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…

This heart-wrenchingly poignant family drama from bestselling author Amanda Prowse asks the question: in today’s hectic world, what does it mean to be a mother?

My Thoughts: In an opening prologue, we are swept back to Lucy’s past and an event that will hover over everything that happens to her afterwards. The event is somewhat ambiguous, and we don’t learn all the details until later.

I felt such sadness for all of Lucy’s dreams that are lost, one by one, and also for the unfortunate timing of her stepdaughter Camille’s arrival. Camille is often rude and volatile, but then, just as we decide to hate her, she turns on a dime and becomes appealing and vulnerable.

What will happen when Camille faces her own troublesome crossroads, needing support from parental figures, and Lucy is in a position to offer a unique brand of assistance? How will Lucy’s revelations impact her own marriage? Will Lucy’s secret past open up the lines of communication with her mother?

Set in and near London, The Idea of You gripped my emotions from the beginning, as I rooted for Lucy and Jonah, and then for Camille, as they each hoped and dreamed for a cozy and happy life.

The characters felt like real people, all of whom I wanted to know. A 5 star read, and recommended for those who enjoy family drama, with plenty of issues to address.

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

 

REVIEW: THE MOTHER’S PROMISE, BY SALLY HEPWORTH

 

All their lives, Alice Stanhope and her daughter, Zoe, have been a family of two, living quietly in Northern California. Zoe has always struggled with crippling social anxiety and her mother has been her constant and fierce protector. With no family to speak of, and the identity of Zoe’s father shrouded in mystery, their team of two works—until it doesn’t. Until Alice gets sick and needs to fight for her life.

Desperate to find stability for Zoe, Alice reaches out to two women who are practically strangers but who are her only hope: Kate, a nurse, and Sonja, a social worker. As the four of them come together, a chain of events is set into motion and all four of them must confront their sharpest fears and secrets—secrets about abandonment, abuse, estrangement, and the deepest longing for family. Imbued with heart and humor in even the most dismal moments, The Mother’s Promise is an unforgettable novel about the unbreakable bonds between mothers and daughters and the new ways in which families are forged.

My Thoughts: From the very beginning pages of The Mother’s Promise, I was captivated by the challenges faced by each of the characters.

First there was Alice, a single mother diagnosed with a potentially deadly disease, confronted with the realization that she will be unavailable to her needy daughter while she fights her illness. Then there is Zoe, the fifteen-year-old daughter who suffers from social anxiety so crippling that speaking, eating in front of others, or forming any kind of normal connections becomes a daily struggle. Being at home with her mother is her only comfort zone.

As Alice begins to deal with her illness, she meets Kate, a nurturing nurse who goes above and beyond to assist, even taking Zoe into her home to avoid foster care placement during her mother’s hospitalization. Kate’s seemingly perfect life is full of personal heartbreak, but I liked seeing how she reached out to Alice and Zoe. The bond developing between Kate and Zoe was a blessing for them both.

Sonya, the hospital social worker, who seems closed-off and occasionally distant…has her own secret battles. Her marriage to George is not what it seems.

The circumstances of Zoe’s conception, and the identity of her father are woven into the story in unexpected ways.

I liked watching Zoe slowly learn to deal with her issues, while her mother began to lean on others. An emotional read that kept me engaged until the very end, this book earned 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE FIFTH LETTER, BY NICOLA MORIARTY

A fun vacation game turns destructive, exposing dark secrets, deeply buried grudges, and a shocking betrayal in Nicola Moriarity’s intriguing debut.

Four friends . . .
Joni, Deb, Eden, and Trina have been best friends since high school, sharing a bond that has seen them through their teenage years and into adulthood. But now, time and circumstance is starting to pull them apart as careers, husbands, and babies get in the way. As their yearly vacation becomes less of a priority—at least for three of the women—how can Joni find a way to draw the four of them back together?

Four secrets . . .
During a laughter and wine-filled night, the women dare one another to write anonymous letters, spilling their deepest, darkest secrets. But the fun game turns devastating, exposing cracks in their lives and the friendship they share. Each letter is a dark confession revealing shocking information. A troubled marriage? A substance abuse problem? A secret pregnancy? A heartbreaking diagnosis?

Five letters . . .
Late on one of their last nights together, after the other three have gone to bed, Joni notices something in the fireplace—a burnt, crumpled, nearly destroyed, sheet of paper that holds the most shattering revelation of all. It is a fifth letter—a hate-filled rant that exposes a vicious, deeply hidden grudge that has festered for decades. But who wrote it? Which one of them has seethed with resentment all these years? What should Joni do?

My Thoughts: My eyes were glued to the pages as the stories in The Fifth Letter unfolded. There were many versions of these women, and the secrets, when revealed, would stun each of them.

But even after they thought they had told all, secrets and lies remained. I did not like the women very much, as they were pretty self-absorbed and competitive with one another. Especially Eden and Joni.

I did enjoy the alternate conversation between Joni and Father O’Reilly, a priest and former psychologist. His advice, his observations, and his very “un-churchy” view of life made me wonder more about him.

Guessing about who wrote that fifth letter, which we get to “read” along with Joni, kept me busy. I was going back and forth between two of the characters, but not until after the vacation, when the women and their husbands got together at Eden’s house for dinner, did it all come out. And then there was chaos, a little danger, and more to come. An epilogue shows us a peek into each of their futures. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE GOOD NEIGHBOR, BY A. J. BANNER

good-neighbor

 

 

Shadow Cove, Washington, is the kind of town everyone dreams about—quaint streets, lush forests, good neighbors. That’s what Sarah thinks as she settles into life with her new husband, Dr. Johnny McDonald. But all too soon she discovers an undercurrent of deception. And one October evening when Johnny is away, sudden tragedy destroys Sarah’s happiness.

Dazed and stricken with grief, she and Johnny begin to rebuild their shattered lives. As she picks up the pieces of her broken home, Sarah discovers a shocking secret that forces her to doubt everything she thought was true—about her neighbors, her friends, and even her marriage. With each stunning revelation, Sarah must ask herself, Can we ever really know the ones we love?

My Thoughts: From the first moments of sheer terror in the prologue to the slowly unfolding secrets and tragedies of the following pages, The Good Neighbor captured me. The setting in Shadow Cove was the perfect place to start a home and family, and the neighborhood with seemingly friendly people made it just the kind of place Sarah and her husband Johnny had been seeking.

But Sarah, a writer of children’s books, starts to feel a niggling doubt almost immediately. It starts with the next door neighbors, Chad and Monique. Monique’s seductive ways hint at more beneath the surface when she whispers to the men in the room.

Several strange phone calls suggest a stalker, but Sarah also fears that her husband has been unfaithful to her.

Why does the realtor, Eris Coghlan, come across as a little bit too accommodating? What about the flirtatious way that Theresa Minkowski, another neighbor, seems to behave around Johnny? Is Sarah just insecure, or is there more going on?

I was surprised, but not totally stunned when events unfolded as they did, and I had little trouble figuring things out. On the last page, however, another whopper was unleashed, reminding us that secrets just keep coming once the genie is released from the bottle. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: RAINY DAY WOMEN, BY KAY KENDALL

 

Kay Kendall’s RAINY DAY WOMEN is the second book in the Austin Starr Mystery series. In 1969, during the week of the Manson murders and Woodstock, the intrepid amateur sleuth, infant in tow, flies across the continent to support a friend suspected of murdering women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. Then her former CIA trainer warns that an old enemy has contracted a hit on her. Her anxious husband demands that she give up her quest and fly back to him. How much should Austin risk when tracking the killer puts her and her baby’s life in danger?
My Thoughts: Having enjoyed Book One in this series, I was eager to rejoin amateur sleuth Austin Starr. Following along in her adventures in Vancouver, I loved how the reader is introduced to the early feminist struggles via a women’s group.

As a backdrop to Rainy Day Women, the vernacular of the 60s, the music, and the Woodstock festival, along with the Sharon Tate murders, offer up a real taste of what life was like back then.

Austin is an interesting character, determined and skilled at following clues. She was also a little bit naïve, but she made up for it by pushing ahead fearlessly. Her husband, David, opposed to her activities, seemed to take on the thoughts and feelings of a lot of men back then, worried and overly-protective.

Larissa, the daughter of a Russian immigrant, Professor Klimenko, was different in this outing. Previously, while in Toronto, she had been awed by Austin, but in this setting, and probably because she was a suspect in her friend Shona’s murder, she seemed brusque and irritable.

As Austin accompanied Larissa to the women’s lib group, she met other friends of Shona’s, and also a few rivals in the group. How did Shona’s former roommate Mia fit into what happened to her? Were her brashness and her violent ups and downs a factor? How does Becky, another woman in the group, recently separated from her controlling husband, add to the questions Austin has? Did Shona’s ex-boyfriend Jack have a motive to have killed her? Or would the answers lie closer to home in the chemistry lab, with the graduate students?

I did enjoy watching Austin zero in on the killer, and in an exciting finale, bring justice for her friend and the other women in the group. In the end, there were also unresolved threads in the form of an ex-US Senator who had been tailing her. I can see a Book Three on the horizon. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE BEST AWFUL, BY CARRIE FISHER

 

When we left Suzanne Vale at the end of Carrie Fisher’s bestselling Postcards from the Edge, she had survived drug abuse, rehab, and Hollywood celebrity. The Best Awful takes Suzanne back to the edge with a new set of troubles—not the least of which is that her studio executive husband turned out to be gay and has left her for a man.

Lonely for a man herself, Suzanne decides that her medication is cramping her style, and she goes off her meds—with disastrous results. The “manic” side of the illness convinces her it would be a good idea to get a tattoo, cut off her hair, and head to Mexico with a burly ex-con and a stash of OxyContin. As she wakes up in Tijuana, the “depressive” side kicks in, leading Suzanne through a series of surreal psychotic episodes before landing her in a mental hospital. With the help of her movie star mom, a circle of friends, and even her ex-husband, she begins the long journey back to sanity.

My Thoughts: What I enjoy most about Suzanne Vale is her fierce desire to move beyond life’s disappointments. Certainly she finds herself up to her neck in alligators after the disappointment of her marriage. Even her joy at having her daughter Honey does not quite take the edge off of how much she hates being wrong about her ex-husband.

She has done pretty well at staying off the drugs, until…Yes, going off of the bipolar medication is a familiar tale for those with the illness. Life seems less wonderful when the journey turns flat and joyless.

How does Suzanne’s quest for a new man, while enjoying the ups and downs she experiences without the medications, turn into disaster? How does she find herself sliding down the surreal rabbit hole once again?

The Best Awful is a fictionalized tale filled with some of the author’s own experiences. As a result, we are gifted with an authentic journey through the meltdowns, the chaos, and life in a mental hospital. Fisher knows firsthand what her protagonist is going through, and we are rooting for Suzanne as she struggles. I enjoyed this book, although it wasn’t my favorite from the author. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE VANISHING YEAR, BY KATE MORETTI

 

 

Zoe Whittaker is living a charmed life. She is the beautiful young wife to handsome, charming Wall Street tycoon Henry Whittaker. She is a member of Manhattan’s social elite. She is on the board of one of the city’s most prestigious philanthropic organizations. She has a perfect Tribeca penthouse in the city and a gorgeous lake house in the country. The finest wine, the most up-to-date fashion, and the most luxurious vacations are all at her fingertips.

What no one knows is that five years ago, Zoe’s life was in danger. Back then, Zoe wasn’t Zoe at all. Now her secrets are coming back to haunt her.

As the past and present collide, Zoe must decide who she can trust before she—whoever she is—vanishes completely.

 

My Thoughts: From the first pages of The Vanishing Year, I was caught up in Zoe’s world, both the current charmed life and the one she escaped. I could visualize the criminals who might be pursuing her, even now.

As Zoe begins to experience moments in her present life that collide with the past, we learn more about who she really was…back then. About her adoption by Evelyn, about her birth mother, and the most shocking secret of all that comes when she meets her birth mother.

In her present life, there is her friend Lydia, with whom she worked in a small flower shop…before Henry.

Then there is Cash, a journalist who wrote an article about an event she produced…and who has turned into someone she trusts. Someone who is helping her. But he is someone Henry hates.

How do the strange and frightening events happening in her new life connect with the old one? Who has decided to target her and terrify her all over again? Why does Henry seem to monitor her every activity, and why is he enraged when she questions him?

I had my own ideas about who was behind a lot of what was happening to Zoe…and when the truth started to unfold, I realized that it was all a lot more convoluted than I had imagined. A book I could not put down, I give this one a resounding 5 stars.

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