REVIEW: THE FIRST MISTAKE, BY SANDIE JONES

 

THE WIFE: For Alice, life has never been better. With her second husband, she has a successful business, two children, and a beautiful house.

HER HUSBAND: Alice knows that life could have been different if her first husband had lived, but Nathan’s arrival into her life gave her back the happiness she craved.

HER BEST FRIEND: Through the ups and downs of life, from celebratory nights out to comforting each other through loss, Alice knows that with her best friend Beth by her side, they can survive anything together. So when Nathan starts acting strangely, Alice turns to Beth for help. But soon, Alice begins to wonder whether her trust has been misplaced . . .

The first mistake could be her last.

 

My Thoughts: The First Mistake takes the reader inside the domestic lives of several characters, beginning with Alice’s world in which she lost her beloved first husband. Now her second husband shows promise…but suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, she begins to see the cracks in the façade.

In confiding in her best friend Beth, Alice thinks she has found the support she needs, but has she really? Certain details do not add up, and she may have misplaced her trust.

Alternating from the perspectives of Alice and Beth, we find ourselves in a quandary. Can we trust any of these characters? Who has the most to gain from a long con game, and who might be hiding deep, dark secrets?

In the end, I couldn’t stop reading and trying to decide who I should root for. A captivating tale with unexpected twists and turns, I had to give this book 4.5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: THE MOTHER-IN-LAW, BY SALLY HEPWORTH

 

A twisty, compelling new novel about one woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law that ends in death…

From the moment Lucy met her husband’s mother, she knew she wasn’t the wife Diana had en-visioned for her perfect son. Exquisitely polite, friendly, and always generous, Diana nonetheless kept Lucy at arm’s length despite her desperate attempts to win her over. And as a pillar in the community, an advocate for female refugees, and a woman happily married for decades, no one had a bad word to say about Diana…except Lucy.

That was five years ago.

Now, Diana is dead, a suicide note found near her body claiming that she no longer wanted to live because of the cancer wreaking havoc inside her body.

But the autopsy finds no cancer.

It does find traces of poison, and evidence of suffocation.

Who could possibly want Diana dead? Why was her will changed at the eleventh hour to disinherit both of her children, and their spouses? And what does it mean that Lucy isn’t exactly sad she’s gone?

Fractured relationships and deep family secrets grow more compelling with every page in this twisty, captivating new novel from Sally Hepworth.

 

My Thoughts: The Mother-in-Law grabs us from the beginning with a stunning death.

Lucy and Ollie’s marriage has numerous complications, but Diana was an unexpected one. Our multiple narrators take us through the years, from the past and to the present lives of the characters.

My favorite insight into Diana came during her girlhood with the defining moments that created her persona. We start out disliking her behavior, but as time passes, we come to understand her.

The obsessions of Nettie, Ollie’s sister, add an interesting layer to the tale.

Just when I thought that I had figured out who killed Diana, I realized how much intrigue each character brought to the mystery. This glued-to-the-pages story that held me hostage throughout earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: DREAMS OF FALLING, BY KAREN WHITE

 

On the banks of the North Santee River stands a moss-draped oak that was once entrusted with the dreams of three young girls. Into the tree’s trunk, they placed their greatest hopes, written on ribbons, for safekeeping—including the most important one: Friends forever, come what may.

But life can waylay the best of intentions….

Nine years ago, a humiliated Larkin Lanier fled Georgetown, South Carolina, knowing she could never go back. But when she finds out that her mother has disappeared, she realizes she has no choice but to return to the place she both loves and dreads—and to the family and friends who never stopped wishing for her to come home.

Ivy, Larkin’s mother, is discovered badly injured and unconscious in the burned-out wreckage of her ancestral plantation home. No one knows why Ivy was there, but as Larkin digs for answers, she uncovers secrets kept for nearly fifty years—whispers of love, sacrifice, and betrayal—that lead back to three girls on the brink of womanhood who found their friendship tested in the most heartbreaking ways.

My Thoughts: Dreams of Falling is a beautifully layered family drama featuring several generations. Themes of dreams, falling, and long-held secrets keep the reader turning pages, not knowing what will be revealed.

Alternating narrators and dual time lines carry the reader from 2010 back to the fifties. Larkin is a young woman trying to escape her past, but news of her mother Ivy’s disappearance takes her back to the loving arms of her nurturing caretakers, Ceecee and Bitty. The beautiful settings were described in such a way that I could actually feel the essence of it all, just as I’ve always done with Karen White’s books. 5 stars.***

REVIEW: MY LOVELY WIFE, BY SAMANTHA DOWNING

 

Our love story is simple. I met a gorgeous woman. We fell in love. We had kids. We moved to the suburbs. We told each other our biggest dreams, and our darkest secrets. And then we got bored.

We look like a normal couple. We’re your neighbors, the parents of your kid’s friend, the acquaintances you keep meaning to get dinner with.

We all have our secrets to keeping a marriage alive.

Ours just happens to be getting away with murder.

My Thoughts: Our first-person narrator is the husband in My Lovely Wife, and in a little game he is playing with his wife, he identifies himself as Tobias when he meets potential prey. He also claims to be deaf.

At first, we are unclear about the nature of the game. But slowly we learn more, and even come to understand the origins of the events that transpire. Or at least we think we do.

As the story moves along, with all the expected twists and turns, I know that I didn’t anticipate how things would play out. I should have known, as there were red flags waving all over the place.

Millicent, the wife, seems a little too put together and willing. So agreeable. So lovely, if you will. Could she be the person she seems to be?

The pace quickened shortly after the real game was revealed, and near the end, I was rapidly turning pages, with one hope in mind. Probably not the hope you are imagining, but sometimes the best kind of denouement is for one “bad” person to win out over the other. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE PERFECT GIRLFRIEND, BY KAREN HAMILTON

 

Juliette loves Nate.

She will follow him anywhere. She’s even become a flight attendant for his airline, so she can keep a closer eye on him.

They are meant to be.

The fact that Nate broke up with her six months ago means nothing. Because Juliette has a plan to win him back.

She is the perfect girlfriend. And she’ll make sure no one stops her from getting exactly what she wants.

True love hurts, but Juliette knows it’s worth all the pain…

 

My Thoughts: The Perfect Girlfriend is narrated in the first-person voice of Elizabeth/Lily/Juliette. After her break-up with Nate, she has created a new life for herself, while keeping a close eye on him, planning for that time when they will be together again. Her obsession and her total focus dominate the pages.

She knows his schedule and regularly stops in at his empty flat when she knows he is on a flight somewhere. She manages to gain entry, and she knows his passwords so that she is able to check his online accounts.

Her behavior escalates alarmingly, and every new plan seems to bring her closer to a psychotic break, reminiscent of the “bunny boiler” of a familiar movie. Just when you think she can’t go to darker depths, she shocks us with the intensity of her actions. And yet she carries on with some sort of normalcy in her job as a flight attendant. She even earns a promotion as a safety ambassador.

As we turn the pages, numbed by the boldness of each move she makes, we learn bits and pieces of her childhood and adolescence…and the origins of her destructive behavior. By the end, I couldn’t stop reading, waiting for the stunning ending, wondering who she would target next. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE EDITOR, BY STEVEN ROWLEY

 

After years of trying to make it as a writer in 1990s New York City, James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at a major publishing house: none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie—or Mrs. Onassis, as she’s known in the office—has fallen in love with James’s candidly autobiographical novel, one that exposes his own dysfunctional family. But when the book’s forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can’t bring himself to finish the manuscript.

Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending, encouraging him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother. Then a long-held family secret is revealed, and he realizes his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page…

 

My Thoughts: The Editor is an engaging story that focuses on the publishing industry of the recent past. Set in 1990s Manhattan, the tale features the unique and captivating addition of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as the charming editor for a struggling author. Her literary gifts remind us all of how rare such bookish delights seem set against our contemporary world of Print-on-Demand literature in various formats.

James Smale, as the author, is on a chaotic journey when the story begins. His dysfunctional family is the centerpiece of his work, which offers the opportunity for Jackie to guide him through the process of rewriting his own life by reconnecting with his mother, the protagonist of his fictionalized autobiography. His mother has kept him at arm’s length, remaining silent to his questions about their family history. Jackie’s advice: let her tell her story. Will an unexpected secret widen the rift between them, or be the first step forward to a new relationship?

The book and its characters swept me back to an illusory time when we were not bombarded by social media, the 24 -hour news cycle, and constant cynicism. I miss being able to admire those in positions of power. For a little while, the glow of a golden time that I always think of as a part of Jackie and the lives she led settled over me and held me captive. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: BACK STABBERS (#8), BY JULIE MULHERN

 

All Ellison Russell wanted was an update on her stock portfolio. Instead, she found her broker dead.

With an unexpected out-of-town guest at her house, Ellison is too busy for a murder investigation. Only this time, Detective Anarchy Jones wants her help, and she can’t deny the handsome detective. Can Mr. Coffee supply her with enough caffeine to keep her brain sharp and everyone else happy?

Juggling bodies (one, two, three, four), two-faced friends, her social calendar, and a cat (yes, a cat) is taxing but Mother might be the biggest challenge of all.

With a killer drawing closer, can Ellison put together the pieces or will she be the one getting stabbed in the back?

 

My Thoughts: A busy schedule has Ellison juggling activities and appointments, so when we first meet her in Back Stabbers, she is trying to jump ahead in line (and away from a coughing woman) to get to her appointment with her stock broker. But in his office, she finds a disconcerting sight.

For anyone acquainted with Ellison, she is known for her penchant of finding dead bodies, and everyone alternates between teasing her about this tendency or scolding her (her mother).

Anarchy Jones has finally accepted the fact that she can be helpful in his investigations, so he no longer tries to shut her out.

Mixed in with the usual murders and the mysteries surrounding them is a sister reunion. An unexpected connection between her new half sister and someone near and dear to Ellison draws some new feelings of jealousy. Or mistrust.

What I enjoy most about Ellison and her activities: her fondness for her Mr. Coffee machine and all that it brings to her; her internal monologues that are as funny as any banter one might find among friends; and her willingness to jump into the line of fire to rescue friends and find the killer. Another 5 star read.***

REVIEW: THE LIAR’S CHILD, BY CARLA BUCKLEY

 

On the outskirts of North Carolina’s Outer Banks sits the Paradise, an apartment complex where renters never stay long enough to call the place “home”—and neighbors are seldom neighborly. It’s ideal for Sara Lennox, who moved there to escape a complicated past—and even her name—and rebuild a new life for herself under the radar. But Sara cannot help but notice the family next door, especially twelve-year-old Cassie and five-year-old Boon. She hears rumors and whispers of a recent tragedy slowly tearing them apart.

When a raging storm threatens then slams the coastal community, Sara makes a quick, bold decision: Rescue Cassie and Boon from the storm and their broken home—without telling a soul. But this seemingly noble act is not without consequences. Some lethal.

My Thoughts: The characters we meet in The Liar’s Child seemingly have no connection to one another, beginning with Hank, the retired cop who is a watcher. He fancies himself a protector, having suffered unimaginable losses.

Cassie, a preteen girl living in a dreary apartment, protects herself with defiance, dark clothes, and heavy makeup. She acts as if her little brother Boon is an annoyance, but she is his fierce guardian. The two of them know early on that they can’t really trust people.

Whit, father to the kids, has a dark secret. But he is trying to hold everything together for his kids.

Then there is Sara…or whoever she really is. She is in a witness program, but she is marking the days until she can escape the FBI scrutiny. We learn through her internal monologues that lying is a big part of her persona, and she is good at it. But it’s a lonely life.

So…when the hurricane strikes and she puts her own destiny at risk to rescue Cassie and Boon, she learns that sometimes even liars can find their inner nurturer.

I loved watching them all struggle: Sara, Cassie, Boon, Whit, and even Hank. At the end, the story jumped ahead in time, and we caught a glimpse of a promising future. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: NIGHT BEACH, BY JOANNE DEMAIO

 

Everything was in place for the perfect beachside gathering. Lace-wrapped jars hung from white chairs on the sand. Paper lanterns and tiki torches glimmered in the twilight evening. A rowboat draped with roses and vines waited in the wings. Love floated on the salt air.

Until the arrival of a mysterious guest named Shane Bradford, a lobsterman with a tangled past in this little New England beach town.

Like a sudden sea breeze, the special evening quickly turns. And the residents of Stony Point must tread the darker water Shane brings to their Night Beach.

My Thoughts: In Night Beach, the chaos left behind after the cancelled ceremony brought up memories for those in the beach community. Flashing back to the past and to a time before Shane Bradford did whatever he did to earn being “evicted” from their lives offered a peek into how things were back then.

Whatever he did was not readily apparent to the reader, and even some members of the community were in the dark.

Multiple narrators take us back to the past, as we watch the “time clock” of the present…and slowly we learn more.

Along the way, the author takes us on a walk near the driftline, and we can almost see the ocean stars in the sea. As we peek into the cottages where the residents talk and share their thoughts, we feel a part of the community. In a little cabin in Addison, where Kyle and Lauren seek respite from the detritus of the day, we imagine how they will begin to heal.

I always enjoy these characters, even the parts where they blunder along, making a mess of things. In the end, they manage to move beyond whatever disturbance they have created. A lovely 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: “IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE”

 

The Brennans—parents, Finn and Bridget, and their sons, Jarrah and Toby—have made a sea change, from chilly Hobart, Tasmania, to subtropical Murwillumbah, New South Wales. Feeling like foreigners in this land of sun and surf, they’re still adjusting to work, school, and life in a sprawling purple clapboard house, when one morning, tragedy strikes.

In the devastating aftermath, the questions fly. What really happened? And who’s to blame? Determined to protect his family, Finn finds himself under the police and media spotlight. Guilty and enraged, Bridget spends nights hunting answers in the last place imaginable. Jarrah—his innocence lost—faces a sudden and frightening adulthood where nothing is certain.

 

My Thoughts: Alternating narrators present the past and the present, and In the Blink of an Eye reveals a family in the midst of starting over from what they left behind. But just when they believe their new life is finally coming together, a huge loss takes over the fresh beginning…and changes everything.

Each character has secrets to hide, and it is easy to feel for them all. I had some favorites, but just when I thought I knew them all, something unexpected would come out and twist the narrative.

Because the story flashes back and forth regularly, we don’t learn everything about the events until they trickle down in tidbits and flashbacks. Struggling with loss and how the landscape of their lives changes dramatically forces them each to redefine who they are and what will happen next.

Will Finn and Bridget reconnect? Can their new life work, or must they return to their former residence to right the wrongs of the past? A story that made me think about all that can happen in one blink of an eye. 4.5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.