REVIEW: THE HOUSE GUEST, BY MARK EDWARDS

 

When British twenty-somethings Ruth and Adam are offered the chance to spend the summer housesitting in New York, they can’t say no. Young, in love and on the cusp of professional success, they feel as if luck is finally on their side.

So the moment that Eden turns up on the doorstep, drenched from a summer storm, it seems only right to share a bit of that good fortune. Beautiful and charismatic, Eden claims to be a friend of the homeowners, who told her she could stay whenever she was in New York.

They know you’re not supposed to talk to strangers—let alone invite her.

As suspicions creep in that Eden may not be who she claims to be, they begin to wonder if they’ve made a terrible mistake…

As I was drawn into the story of The House Guest, I was leery of almost every character that appeared. Especially Eden. Who could possibly trust anything she said or did?

But as the story leads us along, and as we meet other characters, all of whom seem suspicious and/or nefarious, I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

What would happen to Ruth when she mysteriously disappeared? Who was behind it, and would Adam figure it out, with the help of a mysterious stranger who seemed to be stalking him?

What did the homeowners, Mona and Jack, have to do with what was happening? Was Eden an old friend, or were they, too, involved in the cult-like events that surrounded them all?

I liked trailing along after the characters and the story, trying to decide who was evil and who was good. In the end, we are quickly swept away to a beautiful beach setting…and we think it is all over. But is it? 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE CLOSER YOU GET, BY MARY TORJUSSEN

Coworkers Ruby and Harry are in love—but they’re married to other people. They decide to tell their spouses that their marriages are over and to start a new life together. Ruby has wanted to leave her controlling husband for a while, so she tells him she’s leaving and waits at the hotel where she and Harry are to meet. But Harry never shows up.

Suddenly, Ruby has lost everything. Harry won’t answer her calls, and she’s fired from her job. She finds a cheap apartment in a run-down part of town, all the while wondering what happened to Harry.

Just as Ruby thinks she’s hit rock bottom, strange and menacing things start to happen—someone is sneaking into her apartment, and someone is following her home late at night—and she is going to have to fight for her survival.


Alternating narrators tell the story in The Closer You Get. First, we connect with Ruby’s voice, and then with Emma’s.

Two women trying to move beyond the disappointments in their marriages. Who can they trust? Will they find what they are seeking, or will they realize that there is nothing good to be found in those they turn to?

At first, we believe that Ruby will have her happily-ever-after, but when he seemingly dumps her without a second thought, she almost reconsiders leaving her husband. But he is keeping things from her, and his bullying ways continue, even after she thinks he might have changed.

Emma seems like someone who could be an enemy, but as time goes on, we realize that she has not found what she wanted either. She might be more of a victim than we realize.

Back and forth the story takes us, making us wonder just who these women can trust, and what further secrets will be revealed. Twisty moments that kept us wondering what would happen next led to me awarding this book 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: A PIECE OF THE WORLD, BY CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE

 

To Christina Olson, the entire world was her family’s remote farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Born in the home her family had lived in for generations, and increasingly incapacitated by illness, Christina seemed destined for a small life. Instead, for more than twenty years, she was host and inspiration for the artist Andrew Wyeth, and became the subject of one of the best known American paintings of the twentieth century.

As she did in her beloved smash bestseller Orphan Train, Christina Baker Kline interweaves fact and fiction in a powerful novel that illuminates a little-known part of America’s history. Bringing into focus the flesh-and-blood woman behind the portrait, she vividly imagines the life of a woman with a complicated relationship to her family and her past, and a special bond with one of our greatest modern artists.

Told in evocative and lucid prose, A Piece of the World is a story about the burdens and blessings of family history, and how artist and muse can come together to forge a new and timeless legacy.

As I walked into the world of a complicated and somewhat isolated woman who is the primary character of A Piece of the World, I was fascinated with her interior thoughts, her interior world, and how she became the muse of the painter Andrew Wyeth, who spent more than twenty years sketching and painting her.

He came in the summers, literally seemed to move into the farmhouse, and immersed himself in the work. When the painting, entitled Christina’s World, was finally unfurled, we see how this artist truly saw his subject. Her complicated and seemingly isolated life was so much more. There were many stories beneath the surface, yielding an iconic character..

As I read, I felt truly sorry for Christina, but also had to admire her inner strength. She showed us how an individual can persevere and triumph. How one person could slowly reveal so many layers that can inspire others, seen by the world through one man’s art. A fictionalized story with a very human centerpiece. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: MY DARK VANESSA, BY KATE ELIZABETH RUSSELL

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past.
But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

 

 My Dark Vanessa, narrated by our protagonist, begins in 2017, just as the vocal wave of women’s voices about the men that used and abused them hits the media and becomes a movement. We see that Vanessa is struggling with its impact, and the strength of her denial keeps her rooted in her own view of events.

Swinging back to the year 2000, we see the tentative beginnings of what Vanessa has dubbed a love relationship with her English teacher, Jacob Strane, and how she cannot seem to keep away from him. As much as he has manipulated her through his praise and the way he carefully asks for her consent along the way, we also view how Vanessa has responded to him as if they are in a consensual relationship. In fact, he defines her life for several years. She doesn’t see the inappropriateness of their relationship, but a part of her must sense that it is, since she is secretive and defensive.

Vanessa’s narrative offers the reader a detailed and descriptive view of the connection she feels to Strane, and the more we learn, the more we become aware of how she is trapped by the hold he has on her. She seems unable to accurately portray their reality in her own mind, idealizing the relationship and finding herself stuck by her own inability to move beyond it.

A vivid and dark portrayal of a form of addiction that glues the participants together by their own denial and desperate need for the connection, the book is one I could not put down and therefore, earned 5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: LITTLE SECRETS, BY JENNIFER HILLIER

All it takes to unravel a life is one little secret…

Marin had the perfect life. Married to her college sweetheart, she owns a chain of upscale hair salons, and Derek runs his own company. They’re admired in their community and are a loving family—until their world falls apart the day their son Sebastian is taken.

A year later, Marin is a shadow of herself. The FBI search has gone cold. The publicity has faded. She and her husband rarely speak. She hires a P.I. to pick up where the police left off, but instead of finding Sebastian, she learns that Derek is having an affair with a younger woman. This discovery sparks Marin back to life. She’s lost her son; she’s not about to lose her husband, too. Kenzie is an enemy with a face, which means this is a problem Marin can fix.


We begin our tale with Marin’s POV in Little Secrets, so it was understandable that I rooted for her. Even when she began making choices that were less than ideal.

Then Kenzie’s voice takes over, alternating with Marin’s, and when we first meet up with her, we sense that there is more to her story. Is there some other connection between her and Marin? Is Derek a target of some kind? Kenzie’s backstory makes us lean toward her perspective.

Marin’s losses are huge, and they are exacerbated by her discovery of her husband’s affair. Will she have to move on beyond her marriage, or will she find another solution?

Kenzie’s need for someone in her corner, even someone to love her, drew the reader into empathizing with her side of the story.

Meanwhile, I loved entering the world of these people, on opposite sides of the wealth/poverty spectrum, enjoying how Marin relished her home, her business, and her privilege. And I also liked watching Kenzie tiptoe secretly into their world, too, wanting and longing for everything they had.

Twists and turns kept me turning pages, wondering how it would all turn out. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HAVE YOU SEEN ME?, BY KATE WHITE

The key to her missing memories could bring relief—or unlock her worst nightmares.

On a cold, rainy morning, finance journalist Ally Linden arrives soaked to the bone at her Manhattan office, only to find that she’s forgotten her keycard. When her boss shows, he’s shocked to see her—because, he explains, she hasn’t worked there in five years.

Ally knows her name, but is having trouble coming up with much beyond that, though after a trip to the psychiatric ER, she begins to piece together important facts: she lives on the Upper West Side; she’s now a freelance journalist; she’s married to a terrific man named Hugh. More memories materialize and yet she still can’t recall anything about the previous two days. Diagnosed as having experienced a dissociative state, she starts to wonder if it may have been triggered by something she saw. Could she have witnessed an accident—or worse—had something happened to her?

Desperate for answers, Ally tries to track where she spent the missing days, but every detail she unearths points to an explanation that’s increasingly ominous, and it’s clear someone wants to prevent her from learning where those forty-eight hours went. In order to uncover the truth, Ally must dig deep into the secrets of her past—and outsmart the person who seems determined to silence her.

 

Ally’s nightmare trauma has turned into her new reality, as she tries to sort through her actions in the days that went missing. Clues she gathered from the depths of her mind and her memories only led to partial answers until a private detective begins helping her figure out her actions during the missing hours.

Another clue comes in the form of a past traumatic event that might have triggered her break from reality.

But before she finally reaches a resolution, she finds herself in more danger than she could have imagined, and from a totally unexpected source. Along the way, she realizes there are few people she can even trust.

Have You Seen Me? is a captivating book that kept me turning pages until suddenly the pieces fell into place. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NEW HUSBAND, BY D. J. PALMER

-He knows all her favorite foods, music, and movies.
– Her son adores him. He was there when she needed him most.
– He anticipates her every need.
– He would never betray her like her first husband.

The perfect husband. He checks all the boxes.

The question is, why?

Nina Garrity learned the hard way that her missing husband, Glen, had been leading a double life with another woman. But with Glen gone—presumably drowned while fishing on his boat—she couldn’t confront him about the affair or find closure to the life he blew apart.

Now, a year and a half later, Nina has found love again and hopes she can put her shattered world back together. Simon, a widower still grieving the death of his first wife, thinks he has found his dream girl in Nina, and his charm and affections help break through to a heart hardened by betrayal. Nina’s teenage son, Connor, embraces Simon as the father he wishes his dad could have been, while her friends see a different side to him, and they aren’t afraid to use the word obsession.

Nina works hard to bridge the divide that’s come between her daughter and Simon. She wants so badly to believe her life is finally getting back on track, but she’ll soon discover that the greatest danger to herself and her children are the lies people tell themselves.

 

As I immersed myself in The New Husband, I was on edge right away, not sure what to think about Simon, who, in my opinion, aroused every suspicion and fear that one could imagine. First, nobody is as perfect as Simon seemed to be. Plus, Maggie’s radar was alerting her to danger, and despite Nina’s efforts, nothing could make her daughter feel safe and comfortable with the usurper that had stepped into her dad’s place.

Were Maggie’s concerns just about missing her dad? Or was she more perceptive than everyone else?

Nina did seem to pick up on her own alerts that made her sometimes worry about Simon. Could she simply be giving in to Maggie’s feelings? Or is she finally beginning to wonder about the “too perfect” new man?

As we move along in the story, and as certain events happen to finally alert Nina to behaviors that are concerning, even issues she might have overlooked, we are offered a peek behind the scenes and learn the dark secrets that would change everything. Enticing and intense, I couldn’t put this book down. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: REDHEAD BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, BY ANNE TYLER

Micah Mortimer is a creature of habit. A self-employed tech expert, superintendent of his Baltimore apartment building, cautious to a fault behind the steering wheel, he seems content leading a steady, circumscribed life. But one day his routines are blown apart when his woman friend (he refuses to call anyone in her late thirties a “girlfriend”) tells him she’s facing eviction, and a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son. These surprises, and the ways they throw Micah’s meticulously organized life off-kilter, risk changing him forever. An intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who finds those around him just out of reach, and a funny, joyful, deeply compassionate story about seeing the world through new eyes, Redhead by the Side of the Road is a triumph, filled with Anne Tyler’s signature wit and gimlet-eyed observation.

 

From the very first page of Redhead by the Side of the Road, I was totally engaged by Micah, a trademark Tyler character full of odd, compulsive qualities that made me enjoy following along with his routines, feeling how ordinary and yet extraordinary his traits were. As we meet other family members, we begin to see how Micah’s strict routines are his way of dealing with the chaos he sees around him, especially in his family.

I liked how gradually Micah began the process of reassessing the choices he has made and even his interpretations of events in his past. Slowly the understanding he develops brings about some tiny changes in the routines that felt comfortable until they started to seem restrictive.

The humanity in Micah was so lovable and yes, maybe annoying at times, that I felt the need to reach out to him. To protect him from himself.

A short book that grabbed me and held me close…and I didn’t want to turn the last page. I wanted to go on knowing the characters. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SAFE HOUSE, BY JO JAKEMAN

One day, a woman turns up in a remote coastal village. She’s bought a crumbling, long-vacant cottage and calls herself Charlie Miller. Charlie keeps to herself, reluctant to integrate with the locals. If they ever find out who she really is, and what she’s done, she’ll lose what little she has left.

Charlie served two years in prison for providing a false alibi for a murderer. It was the mistake of a woman in love, a woman who couldn’t believe her boyfriend was guilty—or lying to her. All she desperately wants now is a fresh start.

As Charlie slowly lets down her guard and becomes friendly with her neighbors, she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her, someone who knows what she did. When one of her new friends suddenly disappears, Charlie’s worst fears are confirmed. She must confront her past head-on, but as she knows all too well, everything is far more dangerous than how it appears.

As I began the journey in Safe House, I was prepared for twists and turns and keeping an eye out for whoever is watching Charlie Miller try to turn her life around.

Many young women make the mistake of trusting the wrong man, and in Charlie’s case, her bad choices ended with a prison sentence. Starting over will not necessarily lead to a new beginning.

I loved how the author revealed the inner thoughts of our main character, Charlie, whose first-person voice tells the story. We flip back and forth in time, filling in the pieces of the story, and gradually coming to understand what happened.

Someone has his eye on Charlie and as we feel him literally breathing down her neck, the tension escalates. Will Charlie finally be able to start over, or will her past collide with her present?

The author also gave us a cozy feel as she showed Charlie fixing up her cottage and integrating with the villagers. A scenario that offers hope just as everything is about to crash down around her. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: CROSS HER HEART, BY MELINDA LEIGH

 

For more than twenty-five years, Philadelphia homicide detective Bree Taggert has tucked away the nightmarish childhood memories of her parents’ murder-suicide…Until her younger sister, Erin, is killed in a crime that echoes that tragic night: innocent witnesses and a stormy marriage that ended in gunfire. There’s just one chilling difference. Erin’s husband, Justin, has vanished.

Bree knows how explosive the line between love and hate can be, yet the evidence against her troubled brother-in-law isn’t adding up. Teaming up with Justin’s old friend, former sheriff’s investigator and K-9 handler Matt Flynn, Bree vows to uncover the secrets of her sister’s life and death, as she promised Erin’s children. But as her investigation unfolds, the danger hits close to home. Once again, Bree’s family is caught in a death grip. And this time, it could be fatal for her.

When Bree receives a desperate call from her sister Erin, she is determined to help her with whatever trouble she is facing. But despite their family’s violent past, Bree cannot foresee what does come to pass: Erin is murdered. Cross Her Heart brings together moments from the past and the present as Bree determines to find out who has killed her sister.

Many possibilities lead the reader down several pathways, following red herrings and trying to sort out family issues. The little town of Grey’s Hollow has more than its share of troubled individuals, from addicts to criminals in many forms.

I liked Bree’s way of dealing with issues, and I enjoyed the family drama unfolding in a peaceful setting, despite the trauma of Erin’s death. A friendship is brewing between Bree and former detective Matt Flynn, who will be a larger-than-life figure in her life.

As the first book in a new series featuring Bree Taggert, this one roped me in to a cast of characters that would stay and be part of her ongoing life. 5 stars.

***