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 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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REVIEW: NEVER ALONE, BY ELIZABETH HAYNES

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Sarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie.

When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah’s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It’s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son’s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant.

My Thoughts: The beginning pages of Never Alone felt almost cozy and comfy, with Sarah settling into her routines and enjoying the exploration of her old friendship with Aiden. Back in the day, she, Aiden, and Jim, whom she would eventually marry, were pals. There was a competitive edge to the friendship between Jim and Aiden, yet when Sarah chose Jim, Aiden left…and she hadn’t heard from him in years.

Sophie was an interesting character. Charming, warm, and a bit vivacious, yet, for a friend, she seemed to keep a lot of secrets. I was a little wary of her, especially when she started sleeping with Will, a much younger man, despite her very married state.

Aiden and Sophie seemed to have little private chats, too, so what could they be hiding? What does Sarah sense about them? And where does Aiden go all the time, since he has never once told her what he does for a living? How does Sarah react when she makes a discovery about a financial arrangement between Jim and Aiden, and fairly recently? Finally, why does Will keep popping up at Sarah’s farm, blithely walking into the house without knocking?

Alternating narrators take us through the story: Sarah, Aiden, and a third unknown narrator who appears to be watching them all. Suddenly, almost as if the earth has shifted, the intensity heightens and the pace moves rapidly toward a dangerously chilling climax. I figured out who that third narrator was, after being suspicious for a while…and then I held my breath while events came crashing around them all. The stunning finale and the aftermath allowed me to finally breathe again. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE STEPMOTHER, BY CLAIRE SEEBER

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Jeanie Randall believed she had finally found her happily-ever-after with Matthew King. Handsome, wealthy, and with a big, albeit creepy fairytale house, he might actually be her white knight.

The downside? He had teenage twins, Scarlett and Luke. Jeanie had her own teenager, Frank, but he was already away at school, only occasionally spending time with the newly created family.

Hoping to blend the families successfully, Jeanie does everything in her power to make everyone happy, but things start going awry almost immediately. Some secrets from her past, which she had been planning to share with her new husband, are spilled in the worst possible way. Who could have sent the damning e-mails to all the key individuals, from Matthew to her new employers?

Now I had my eye on pretty little Scarlett, the daddy’s girl, but Kaye was also an unlikeable ex-wife who could create furor wherever she went. Lots of screaming phone calls from her to Matthew frequently tore him away, leaving Jeanie alone…again. She could have had plenty of motive. And Scarlett spent much of the time scowling and barking at her new stepmother.

The Stepmother was not just a remake of the fairytales we all love, since it had lots of additional twists and turns that made me wonder who was behind the evil pranks that seemed geared toward driving Jeanie mad.

The novel was also a tale of sisters: Jeanie, the eldest, with little sis Marlena, the one who always leaned on big sister, but who now has her own life mapped out as a journalist. Their stories are alternately narrated, and we learn a lot about their own dysfunctional family. So the two of them are adept at families that are full of scars and old wounds, as well as secrets and lies.

I loved how we finally learn what has happened to Jeanie in the big old King house…and how she finally discovers a way to create her own happiness. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE OTHER WIDOW, BY SUSAN CRAWFORD

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The car skidded and crashed, right after Joe Lindsay told his lover Dorrie Keating that they had to end their affair, that they were in danger.

Somehow Dorrie escapes the car unscathed, except for a small cut on her forehead. But Joe has died. His airbag failed to open, and after checking on his condition, she slipped out. She has a marriage and a daughter to protect.

So begins The Other Widow, a story set in Boston, and an intricate tale of deception, lies, secrets, and murder. A story populated with characters who were so engaging that I found myself rooting for them all. Except for one or two, of course.

Joe was co-owner of a company called Home Runs Renovations, and Dorrie was one of his up and coming employees. She had a head for numbers and a mind for putting facts together, so Joe had left her a little clue in a phone message. A link that took her to an individual, and some very big questions.

Karen, Joe’s wife, had just found out about his affair, but had not confronted him. On the day of the accident, she and her best friend Alice had been having a meal. She saw the wrecked car, and feared it might be Joe’s old Audi. Alone, desperate, she reaches out to an old friend, Tomas, whom she suspects might have feelings for her. She is not sure what she feels for him, though, and hesitates before going too far.

Enter Maggie Brennan, an investigator for the insurance company. A former cop who had also served in the military in Iraq, she is dedicated to finding answers. Nothing about the case feels right, and she is dogged and persistent.

Edward Wells, Joe’s partner, had been his friend since college. Karen had always believed he was someone who cared about her, someone she could trust. But somebody in the company has been doing something wrong. The numbers are off, suggesting embezzlement, and Karen cannot believe that the culprit was Joe. Despite his marital deception, he was basically a good person.

So…the three women are all separately seeking answers, and as their lives begin to intersect, and as they start uncovering bits and pieces of the truth, they each sense a presence: that someone is watching. Following. And in a startling moment, just before someone almost pushes Dorrie to her death, the truth begins to reveal itself. Who among the possible characters could have set all these events in motion? I was suspicious of one character all along, but another one was totally a surprise…until the end. And even then, I had some remaining doubts about another character’s involvement. Definitely a book I will remember and ponder, now that I’ve turned the final page. 5 stars.

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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE”

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Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

Today’s featured book is one that has been on my shelf for a while.   Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll, is described as Gone Girl meets Cosmo meets Sex and the City. . . . Knoll hits it out of the park.”

 

 

 

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Beginning:  I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun.  Feel how light it is compared to the Wusthof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing.  The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but it was quickly going humid in my grip.

***

56:  I came to the conclusion that if a woman of the cloth could be so sure she was going to heaven despite being such a massive asshole, God must be more lenient than I’d been led to believe.  What was a little impurity of the mind and body?

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Synopsis:  HER PERFECT LIFE IS A PERFECT LIE.

As a teenager at the prestigious Bradley School, Ani FaNelli endured a shocking, public humiliation that left her desperate to reinvent herself. Now, with a glamorous job, expensive wardrobe, and handsome blue blood fiancé, she’s this close to living the perfect life she’s worked so hard to achieve.

But Ani has a secret.

There’s something else buried in her past that still haunts her, something private and painful that threatens to bubble to the surface and destroy everything.

With a singular voice and twists you won’t see coming, Luckiest Girl Alive explores the unbearable pressure that so many women feel to “have it all” and introduces a heroine whose sharp edges and cutthroat ambition have been protecting a scandalous truth, and a heart that’s bigger than it first appears.

The question remains: will breaking her silence destroy all that she has worked for—or, will it at long last, set Ani free?

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What do you think?  Should I dust this one off and start reading?  Would you?

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REVIEW: MISSING PIECES, BY HEATHER GUDENKAUF

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An unexpected phone call turns the lives of Jack and Sarah Quinlan upside down. Their twin daughters, Emma and Elizabeth, are away at college, so they are able to quickly arrange to leave their home in Larkspur, Montana, and to fly to Penny Gate, Iowa.

Jack’s Aunt Julia has taken a bad fall and is in critical condition. Soon, they learn that there is more to the story, and that Julia’s accident might not have been accidental.

But just when Sarah thinks she knows everything about her husband’s family, pieces of a strangely convoluted puzzle begin to fall into place, and she is forced to face that her husband has kept many secrets and told numerous lies. Why did Jack say that his parents died in a car accident, when in actuality, his mother had been murdered and his father, missing, was presumed to be the killer?

Meeting all the family members again, especially after the reporter part of Sarah’s personality leads her to the files from the case of Lydia Tierney, Jack’s mother, and more questions arise, she is also stunned to realize that Celia, married to Jack’s cousin Dean, was his serious girlfriend when they were teenagers. Another lie of omission.

So many suspects for both murders, like Amy, a troubled young woman and Jack’s sister; Dean, the angry cousin; and possibly even Jack. So who could have brought such violence into their lives?

When a series of threatening e-mails addressed to Sarah arrive, and the IP address is somewhere in Penny Gate, the threat becomes startlingly close to home. As the danger ratcheted up, it looked like nobody would walk away alive.

I was stunned by the denouement, as I had my eye on one particular suspect all along…and I was wrong. But I actually liked how it turned out, as the guilty character was very annoying. But what would happen to them all after the Missing Pieces are put together? Could they survive the emotional trauma? Definitely a 5 star read.

***My copy of an e-ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.