REVIEW: HE STARTED IT, BY SAMANTHA DOWNING

 

Beth, Portia, and Eddie Morgan haven’t all been together in years. And for very good reasons—we’ll get to those later. But when their wealthy grandfather dies and leaves a cryptic final message in his wake, the siblings and their respective partners must come together for a cross-country road trip to fulfill his final wish and—more importantly—secure their inheritance.

But time with your family can be tough. It is for everyone.

It’s even harder when you’re all keeping secrets and trying to forget a memory, a missing person, an act of revenge, the man in the black truck who won’t stop following your car—and especially when at least one of you is a killer and there’s a body in the trunk. Just to name a few reasons.

But money is a powerful motivator. It is for everyone.


What a road trip we join with the Morgan family in He Started It. The current road trip was one that their grandfather had taken them on years before, and which they are duplicating in order to get their sizable inheritance.

As we join the family in the present, we are offered glimpses into the original road trip, and we know immediately that there are big secrets…from that first trip and from their family lives. Grandpa is not a cuddly old man, and each of the siblings has major flaws and lies they are covering. Whenever something went amiss, they didn’t accept responsibility, because, as they said of Grandpa: “He started it!”

I thought I could guess the conclusion, as Beth, our first-person narrator, keeps us up on how her mind is working through her flashbacks and internal monologue. But is she telling the truth, or is she hiding the biggest secrets of all? And all along, we ask ourselves what is the real meaning of this duplicated trip?

I was stunned as each new revelation gripped me, and the final denouement left me with my mouth hanging open. 4.5 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: 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: 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: GOOD GIRL, BAD GIRL, BY MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

 

A girl is discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Half-starved and filthy, she won’t tell anyone her name, or her age, or where she came from. Maybe she is twelve, maybe fifteen. She doesn’t appear in any missing persons file, and her DNA can’t be matched to an identity. Six years later, still unidentified, she is living in a secure children’s home with a new name, Evie Cormac. When she initiates a court case demanding the right to be released as an adult, forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven must determine if Evie is ready to go free. But she is unlike anyone he’s ever met—fascinating and dangerous in equal measure. Evie knows when someone is lying, and no one around her is telling the truth.

Meanwhile, Cyrus is called in to investigate the shocking murder of a high school figure-skating champion, Jodie Sheehan, who dies on a lonely footpath close to her home. Pretty and popular, Jodie is portrayed by everyone as the ultimate girl-next-door, but as Cyrus peels back the layers, a secret life emerges—one that Evie Cormac, the girl with no past, knows something about.. A man haunted by his own tragic history, Cyrus is caught between the two cases—one girl who needs saving and another who needs justice. What price will he pay for the truth?

 

In Good Girl, Bad Girl, we are pulled into a dual story line immediately. A young girl has been murdered, and Cyrus Haven is tasked with helping the police solve the case. Meanwhile, in a high-security children’s home in Nottingham, a resident social worker requests Cyrus’s help in working with a young girl dubbed Evie Cormac, whose identity has never been uncovered. She was found under mysterious circumstances. Was she held captive, or was there more going on with the man assumed to be her captor?

Alternating narrators tell the tale, and as more details emerge, we try to solve the mystery of who murdered the figure skater named Jodie Sheehan. The most obvious perpetrator begins to seem less likely as more secrets and lies soon add to the growing list of questions about who did what to whom.

Evie’s connection to Cyrus leads to a bond that will keep us intrigued throughout. I kept rapidly turning pages until the final revelations, while rooting for both Cyrus and Evie. 4.5 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 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: THE LIAR’S ROOM, BY SIMON LELIC

 

Two liars. One room. No way out.

Susanna Fenton has a secret. Fourteen years ago she left her identity behind, reinventing herself as a therapist and starting a new life. It was the only way to keep her daughter safe.

But when a young man, Adam Geraghty, walks into her office, claiming he needs Susanna’s help but asking unsettling questions, she begins to fear that her secret has been discovered.

Who is Adam, really? What does he intend to do to Susanna?

And what has he done to her daughter?

My Thoughts: The opening pages of The Liar’s Room take the reader into a dark and frightening place. Someone has been held captive. What will happen next?

Then we move to the therapy office of Susanna Fenton, who has been hiding out for years, trying to escape a painful past. But something about her new patient, Adam, feels familiar. He is unsettling, and over the next few hours, she will begin to make sense of who he is and what he wants.

Adam is manipulative, and what he has done before he shows up to meet with Susanna will change her life and her family.

I liked how the story unfolded as the hours passed by. Both Susanna and Adam have secrets, and we watch some of them unravel behind the scenes and outside the room.

A major revelation brings the two of them to a confrontation that will not end well. Afterwards, we see how lives are forever changed, and how there might be a way to move on.

The narrative was intense and captivating, and I could not stop reading. Definitely a 4.5 star read.

***

REVIEW: WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU LULULEMONS, BY LAUREN WEISBERGER

 

Welcome to Greenwich, Connecticut, where the lawns and the women are perfectly manicured, the Tito’s and sodas are extra strong, and everyone has something to say about the infamous new neighbor.

Let’s be clear: Emily Charlton does not do the suburbs. After leaving Miranda Priestly, she’s been working in Hollywood as an image consultant to the stars, but recently, Emily’s lost a few clients. She’s hopeless with social media. The new guard is nipping at her heels. She needs a big opportunity, and she needs it now.

When Karolina Hartwell, a gorgeous former supermodel, is arrested for a DUI, her fall from grace is merciless. Her senator-husband leaves her, her Beltway friends disappear, and the tabloids pounce.

In Karolina, Emily finds her comeback opportunity. But she quickly learns Greenwich is a world apart and that this comeback needs a team approach.

So it is that Emily, the scorned Karolina, and their mutual friend Miriam, a powerful attorney turned stay-at-home suburban mom, band together to not only navigate the social land mines of suburban Greenwich but win back the hearts of the American public. Along the way, an indispensable ally emerges in one Miranda Priestly.

 

My Thoughts: I loved the character of Emily in The Devil Wears Prada, so I was eager to see what she is doing now, in her life after Miranda Priestley.

As an image consultant, one would think she would be loving her life, but a few setbacks take her to the East Coast again, to the suburb of Greenwich, Connecticut…to help a friend of a friend.

Alternating narratives in When Life Gives You Lululemons take us through the days and nights of Emily, Karolina, and Miriam, and while often I was bored with what was happening at those suburban parties, I did love the descriptions of the homes, food, and even the clothes…sometimes. There were some startling conversations between the women about various plastic surgery “fixes” that I wasn’t expecting. They woke me up…and then I thought: Seriously?

But Emily was my favorite character, and I loved the way her mind worked. Her plan to take down the evil Graham Hartwell, whose secrets and lies had helped maintain his political life, kept me rapidly turning pages.

After some slow parts, the story sped up and I was eagerly immersed in the lives of Emily, Karolina, and Miriam. Some warm and fuzzy moments brought me to a 4.5 star ending.

***

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.

***