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: THE LYING ROOM, BY NICCI FRENCH

 

It should have been just a mid-life fling. A guilty indiscretion that Neve Connolly could have weathered. An escape from twenty years of routine marriage to her overworked husband, and from her increasingly distant children. But when Neve pays a morning-after visit to her lover, Saul, and finds him brutally murdered, their pied-à-terre still heady with her perfume, all the lies she has so painstakingly stitched together threaten to unravel.

After scrubbing clean every trace of her existence from Saul’s life—and death—Neve believes she can return to normal, shaken but intact. But she can’t get out of her head the one tormenting question: what was she forgetting?

An investigation into the slaying could provide the answer. It’s brought Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching, and Neve’s worst fears, to her door. But with every new lie, every new misdirection to save herself, Neve descends further into the darkness of her betrayal—and into more danger than she ever imagined. Because Hitching isn’t the only one watching Neve. So is a determined killer who’s about to make the next terrifying move in a deadly affair….

 

From the very first page of The Lying Room, we watch every move Neve Connolly makes, keeping track of her actions, her lies, and what she must do to make sense of a murder…and to figure out who is responsible.

With the police on her heels at every turn and with a growing list of friends and acquaintances that she must not trust, Neve and her troubled daughter Mabel play against time, juggling events and hoping to save themselves.

All along, we also follow Neve’s efforts to get through the routines of home, work, and caring for her children, staying clear of anything that will bring the police to her door. It was hard to figure out who might be setting up Neve, and I had plenty of people to mistrust along the way. Red herrings, misdirection, and troublesome moments from the past kept me on guard as I tried to sort it all out. A riveting tale that kept me fully engaged…and then suddenly, it all made sense. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

 

Ten years ago, Lena Donohue experienced a wedding-day betrayal so painful that she fled the small town of Watersend, South Carolina, and reinvented herself in New York City. Though now a freelance travel writer, the one place she rarely goes is home—until she learns of her dad’s failing health.

Returning to Watersend means seeing the sister she has avoided for a decade and the brother who runs the family’s Irish pub and has borne the burden of his sisters’ rift. While Alzheimer’s slowly steals their father’s memories, the siblings rush to preserve his life in stories and in photographs. As his secret past brings Lena’s own childhood into focus, it sends her on a journey to discover the true meaning of home.

My Thoughts: Colleen and Hallie were as close as two sisters could be until the betrayal that changed everything between them. I was immediately caught up in the family stories that unfolded in The Favorite Daughter, and for most of the book, I was angry with Hallie, on Colleen’s behalf. But then, almost like turning a page and finding a completely different version of reality, another perspective revealed itself.

The pub that was the centerpiece of the family life in Watersend was based on an Irish pub and another family story that was only fleshed out near the end. A journey to Ireland, a travel memoir that incorporates Colleen’s search for home, and the ultimate reunion kept me turning pages until the end. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: A NOISE DOWNSTAIRS, BY LINWOOD BARCLAY

 

College professor Paul Davis is a normal guy with a normal life. Until, driving along a deserted road late one night, he surprises a murderer disposing of a couple of bodies. That’s when Paul’s “normal” existence is turned upside down. After nearly losing his own life in that encounter, he finds himself battling PTSD, depression, and severe problems at work. His wife, Charlotte, desperate to cheer him up, brings home a vintage typewriter—complete with ink ribbons and heavy round keys—to encourage him to get started on that novel he’s always intended to write.

However, the typewriter itself is a problem. Paul swears it’s possessed and types by itself at night. But only Paul can hear the noise coming from downstairs; Charlotte doesn’t hear a thing. And she worries he’s going off the rails.

Paul believes the typewriter is somehow connected to the murderer he discovered nearly a year ago. The killer had made his victims type apologies to him before ending their lives. Has another sick twist of fate entwined his life with the killer—could this be the same machine? Increasingly tormented but determined to discover the truth and confront his nightmare, Paul begins investigating the deaths himself.

But that may not be the best thing to do. Maybe Paul should just take the typewriter back to where his wife found it. Maybe he should stop asking questions and simply walk away while he can. . . .

 

My Thoughts: Every page of A Noise Downstairs grabbed me, as it recounted mysterious events that could all be in Paul’s mind…or from the supernatural. Or Paul himself could be sleepwalking, doing the things himself. The click-clicking of a vintage typewriter cast an eerie aura upon the events, adding just the right amount of creepiness to the tale.

Every event kept me guessing and wondering, even suspecting the numerous people in Paul’s life. I suspected his wife; I suspected his ex-wife; and even his therapist, at one point. Then there was an odd patient that had done similar things to other people. Could he somehow be sneaking into Paul’s home and doing these things?

Who could Paul trust? Who would have the most to gain by gaslighting Paul? Or was Paul so far off the rails that he needed to be locked up? Just when I thought I had it all figured out, every twist and turn afterwards stunned me, as the pieces finally came together rapidly, leaving me shaking my head. It turned out that nothing was as it seemed, and there were so many unexpected curve balls that I was breathless by the end. A brilliant 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: THE EVER AFTER, BY SARAH PEKKANEN

 

Josie and Frank Moore are happy…at least Josie thinks they are. As parents of two young girls in the Chicago suburbs, their days can be both busy and monotonous, and sometimes Josie wonders how she became a harried forty-something mother rather than the driven career woman she once was. But Frank is a phenomenal father, he’s handsome and charismatic, and he still looks at his wife like she’s the beautiful woman he married more than a decade ago. Josie isn’t just happy—she’s lucky.

Until one Saturday morning when Josie borrows her husband’s phone to make a quick call—and sees nine words that shatter her world.

Now Josie feels as if she is standing at the edge of a sharp precipice. As she looks back at pivotal moments in the relationship she believed would last forever, she is also plunging ahead, surprising everyone (especially herself) with how far she will go to uncover the extent of her husband’s devastating secret.

 

My Thoughts: What happens to a wife when she realizes that the life she thought she had was a big lie? The Ever After digs deep into the anger, pain, and distress that foment after a husband’s secrets and lies are revealed.

It was impossible not to feel the agony of Josie’s situation, as the author’s conversational style, along with the great dialogues and monologues, made the reader feel a part of what was happening.

The story goes back and forth in time, showing the reader how the couple first met; unfurled the times in their marriage when they struggled; and revealed the depths of their current agony.

I especially liked how Josie would not simply accept that the revelations her husband had given her could lead to forgiveness. She had to do her own investigating, work through the uncertainty, and finally get some help for the two of them. Mistrust requires brutal honesty between partners if the trust is to be rebuilt. We learned, through the therapy sessions, that a list of tests Josie devised had to be passed on a regular basis for her to finally believe in her husband again. If she ever could. An in-depth experiment in trust-building and working through the emotions of the disaster could begin to illuminate a new path for the two of them. 4.5 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: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, BY MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

 

Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls.

When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever…

My Thoughts: I was caught up in the lives of the alternating narrators of The Secrets She Keeps. Both Agatha and Meghan have secrets, but we only learn them in bits and pieces as the story unfolds. Sadness and incredible loss greet Agatha each day of her life. For Meghan, disappointment and betrayal are a familiar part of her world, despite what her life looks like to others.

Meghan’s life seemed perfect on the surface, but the cracks in the veneer began to appear about the same time that we realize that Agatha is a bit of a stalker. Why is Agatha spying on Meghan, and what does she plan to do about what she discovers? How will Meghan keep her own secrets hidden?

At first, I couldn’t believe what was happening, so I focused completely on their lives as the incredible events began to reveal themselves to us.

Like lives on a collision course, the world for each of these women is teetering and spinning out of control. Who will still be standing when it is over? Or is there hope for them both?

To avoid spoilers, I will say no more about what happens to the women and the families at the center of it all. Suffice it to say that I was riveted to the pages of this five star read.

***

REVIEW: IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, BY RUTH WARE

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Leonora (Nora/Lee) Shaw writes crime thrillers, and she loves the reclusive world she has created in her tiny flat in Hackney. But there are reasons for her isolation. Ten years before, she and her lover James Cooper broke up after something between them became too much to handle…and his mysterious text, totally unexpected, made the hurt impossible to overcome.

Now Nora is struggling with another e-mail, from a woman named Flo, inviting her to a “hen-do” for Clare Cavendish, another friend whom she hasn’t seen for ten years. Clare is getting married, and Nora is surprised at the invitation, but when her closest friend Nina agrees to come along, Nora accepts.

Here’s where In a Dark, Dark Wood becomes even more dark and sinister. Flo’s aunt’s cabin, The Glass House, is on the edge of a dark wood, and all the glass facing those woods creates a truly frightening ambience. What makes the weekend even more sinister is the sense that both Flo and Clare are playing some weird games…some of which are very painful for Nora. When she finds out who Clare is marrying, she wants to leave immediately. But events unfold in a tragic way, making that impossible.

What were Flo and Clare up to? Were they as innocent as they pretend to be? What horrendous event will turn the creepy weekend into tragedy, and how will Nora find the answers that seem to elude her? How do mysterious text messages lend another layer of mystery to the tale? What was the secret between James and Nora that started the events in the present?

My pages flew by, as I tried to figure out what was happening. I accurately guessed who had engineered the sinister and tragic events, but I liked watching Nora try to figure it all out. I also loved the descriptions in the beginning and at the end which show how much “home” means to Nora…and how she will fight to get back to that wonderful feeling. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

REVIEW: RESULTS MAY VARY, BY BETHANY CHASE

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What if the perfect life you thought you were living turned out to be a total lie? What if the one person you knew better than anyone else suddenly seemed like a stranger?

From the opening pages of Results May Vary, the reader is swept up into such a world, discovering, along with our main character, Caroline Hammond, that all she had previously believed to be true…was not. Who was Adam, her husband and best friend since her teen years, if not someone she could count on? Why would he cheat on her, and was his behavior a one-time error in judgment, or something more?

We watch as she struggles to make sense of this new knowledge, sweeping aside all the illusory images she once believed in, to uncover what remains.

From the literary and art world of Manhattan to homey Williamstown, in Massachusetts, we follow Caroline’s journey, and immerse ourselves in her experiences. I liked how the author showed us the ordinary routines of her days, and how little things, like painting her rooms the way she wanted instead of the “boring white” that Adam loved, could lift her spirits.

I loved the characters, from Caroline’s best friend (and a great chef) Jonathan to her loud and occasionally annoying sister Ruby. New friends like Neil, and other old friends like a quirky artist named Farren, helped Caroline as she made her way through the tangled pathways of her New Life.

When she finally decides that it’s okay to move forward, she must first acknowledge and own the “loneliness” that is necessary before taking those next steps. A lovely story that earned 5 stars.

cropped again 5***

REVIEW: CRUEL BEAUTIFUL WORLD, BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

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Beginning in the late 1960s, in a town near Boston, at a time of both innocence and tragic world events, Cruel Beautiful World explores love, obsession, family ties, and what happens when one’s choices lead to loss, disappointment, and even betrayal.

Sixteen-year-old Lucy Gold was loved by her parents, and then when they died suddenly when she was only five, she and her sister Charlotte were taken in by Iris, an older relative, who cherished and gave them all she had to give.

So why was Lucy drawn into the web of her high school teacher William Lallo? How was he able to seduce her into a life on the run, a life in hiding?

What happens to Iris and to Charlotte after Lucy is gone?

Alternate narrators offer up bits and pieces of the characters’ lives, sweeping back to the turn of the Twentieth Century, when Iris falls in love with a man named Doug, a man who would ultimately betray her in an unexpected way.

Much of the story takes us into Lucy’s new life in Pennsylvania farming country, from the beginnings of her hideaway with William. We watch as the romantic illusions that had captured her so completely disintegrate. The illusions were soon replaced by isolation, fear, and ultimate loss.

I enjoyed the characters and their complexities, and how some of them managed to find ways to pick up the pieces, starting over again and again. We connect with Iris, Charlotte, and then there was Patrick, who ran a farm stand in Pennsylvania. Each of them brings the story to a place where we can examine their hopes, dreams, and costly errors in judgment. Can they move on? Will there be hope in this world they have created for themselves? A 5 star read for me.

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***My e-ARC was received from the publisher via NetGalley.

***