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: A GOOD ENOUGH MOTHER, BY BEV THOMAS

 

Ruth Hartland is a psychotherapist with years of experience. But professional skill is no guard against private grief. The mother of grown twins, she is haunted by the fact that her beautiful, difficult, fragile son Tom, a boy who never “fit in,” disappeared a year and a half earlier. She cannot give up hope of finding him, but feels she is living a kind of half-life, waiting for him to return.

Enter a new patient, Dan–unstable and traumatized–who looks exactly like her missing son. She is determined to help him, but soon, her own complicated feelings, about how she has failed her own boy, cloud her professional judgment. And before long, the unthinkable becomes a shattering reality….

My Thoughts: In the opening lines of A Good Enough Mother, psychotherapist Ruth Hartland is drawn to her new patient, Dan, who bears a striking resemblance to her missing son Tom. As the therapy proceeds, Ruth finds herself losing her sense of control over their sessions. Boundaries are crossed and the inevitable blurring of lines lead to horrific consequences.

The narrative takes Ruth back and forth in time, revealing the good and bad moments in her family life, and just when we see a glimmer of hope in Ruth’s personal life, a stunning breach upends both her personal and professional life.

From the outside looking in, one could anticipate the startling events, and afterwards, Ruth realizes that she should have seen how events would unfold…if she had been paying attention to the signs. I felt a connection to Ruth as she lived in a state of denial, constantly searching for her lost son. I liked how there was a glimmer of hope in the conclusion. 4.5 stars.

***

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.

REVIEW: THE RED ADDRESS BOOK, BY SOFIA LUNDBERG

 

Meet Doris, a 96-year-old woman living alone in her Stockholm apartment. She has few visitors, but her weekly Skype calls with Jenny—her American grandniece, and her only relative—give her great joy and remind her of her own youth.

When Doris was a girl, she was given an address book by her father, and ever since she has carefully documented everyone she met and loved throughout the years. Looking through the little book now, Doris sees the many crossed-out names of people long gone and is struck by the urge to put pen to paper. In writing down the stories of her colorful past—working as a maid in Sweden, modelling in Paris during the 30s, fleeing to Manhattan at the dawn of the Second World War—can she help Jenny, haunted by a difficult childhood, unlock the secrets of their family and finally look to the future? And whatever became of Allan, the love of Doris’s life?

 

My Thoughts: I was hooked on The Red Address Book from the very first page. I loved Doris, who at 96, looks back on the life she has led, filling in her memories from names in her address book. Stories she narrated for us in alternating storylines take us to the past and then bring us back to the present. I felt as if Doris was a friend, and that her experiences in the past could have happened to people I knew and loved.

Jenny is her great niece, with whom she Skypes regularly. So when Doris falls, and then later has a medical crisis, Jenny comes to her in Stockholm, bringing along her youngest child, Tyra. The reunion fills in the blanks for Jenny, and also brings closure to Doris about some missing parts of her life. There was a great feeling of joy, as well as sadness, as the book came to a close.

This memorable story is one that I will never forget, and it earned 5 stars,

***

REVIEW: LEFT: A LOVE STORY, BY MARY HOGAN

 

It started as a dream vacation in Spain, with Fay and Paul Agarra enjoying all the delights of a European holiday. A respected New York City judge, Paul has always been the man Fay can rely on, no matter what. When he inexplicably disappears from a Barcelona street corner, Fay knows something is terribly wrong. Once reunited, Paul shrugs off the episode as a simple misunderstanding—but Fay suspects her almost perfect life has taken a dark and sudden turn.

Soon there are more signs that Paul is beginning to change. Bouts of forgetfulness lead to mistakes in the courtroom. Simple tasks cause unexplainable outbursts of anger. Fay’s worst suspicions are realized when she learns her husband—her rock, her love, her everything—is succumbing to the ravages of dementia.

As her husband transforms before her very eyes, Fay copes with her fears by retreating into a fantasy life filled with promise instead of pain. In Fay’s invented world, she imagines herself living a glamorous life free from heartache, with a handsome neighbor she barely knows rescuing her from a future she can’t accept.

My Thoughts: From the beginning of Left: A Love Story, we alternate between fantasy and reality. Fay’s comfortable and predictable life is changing, and she takes flights of fancy, mostly involving a beautiful apartment building nearby, where she goes to watch and imagine a perfect life within its gorgeous walls.

The experiences on their trip to Spain were terrifying to Fay, especially since the husband she had always counted on suddenly turned different. Seemingly uncaring. Afterwards, she realizes that nothing would ever be the same again.

However, she has trouble getting Paul’s doctor, his son, or even his legal assistant to listen when she expresses her concerns. Feeling dismissed and isolated, her daily walks take her more often to the “fantasy building.”

How did a traumatic event change everything forever? Why did others finally acknowledge her concerns, but act as if she were derelict in her duty not to have noticed sooner? I really disliked Paul’s primary physician and his son. But soon, they all went on with their lives…and Fay is left to deal with her new reality. A sad and poignant story, this one earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE GARDEN OF SMALL BEGINNINGS, BY ABBI WAXMAN

 

Lilian Girvan has been a single mother for three years—ever since her husband died in a car accident. One mental breakdown and some random suicidal thoughts later, she’s just starting to get the hang of this widow thing. She can now get her two girls to school, show up to work, and watch TV like a pro. The only problem is she’s becoming overwhelmed with being underwhelmed.

At least her textbook illustrating job has some perks—like actually being called upon to draw whale genitalia. Oh, and there’s that vegetable-gardening class her boss signed her up for. Apparently, being the chosen illustrator for a series of boutique vegetable guides means getting your hands dirty, literally. Wallowing around in compost on a Saturday morning can’t be much worse than wallowing around in pajamas and self-pity.

After recruiting her kids and insanely supportive sister to join her, Lilian shows up at the Los Angeles botanical garden feeling out of her element. But what she’ll soon discover—with the help of a patient instructor and a quirky group of gardeners—is that into every life a little sun must shine, whether you want it to or not…

My Thoughts: The Garden of Small Beginnings reeled me in from the first page, as our first person narrator, Lilian, masks her pain with a comedic tone, describing how her dead husband is useful. Someone she can blame when things go wrong. Her conversations with him set the tone for this story of a thirty-something woman with small children who was so broken by his sudden death that she ended up in a mental health facility for a few months.

But now she is trying to move on. When she isn’t conversing with her deceased husband Dan, she has regular phone calls and texts with her sister Rachel. Her job as a freelance illustrator takes her to unusual places where her latest gig is a book about gardening. She joins a garden class as a foundation for her art, and what an interesting assortment of students show up there. Who knew that an ordinary class would suddenly morph into a life in the midst of an interesting community?

Classes turn into opportunities to create small gardens in backyards, with each character contributing his or her home as the venue each week. Picnics, barbecues, and interesting pairings, like the one developing between Lili and the instructor, Edward, carry us along on the journey to nourishing a garden and a family of friends. Each chapter ends with snippets on growing a specific vegetable.

Lili fights the developing feelings, and tells herself she is not ready. Will she discover that her reluctance has more to do with feelings of betrayal for Dan? Or could there be more going on?

Set in Los Angeles, the story takes us into the lives of the characters…and the emotional situations range from sadness to love and warmth. A 5 star read for me.

***

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: BEACH HOUSE FOR RENT, BY MARY ALICE MONROE

When Cara Rutledge rents out her quaint beach house on Isle of Palms to Heather Wyatt for the entire summer, it’s a win-win by any standard: Cara’s generating income necessary to keep husband Brett’s ecotourism boat business afloat, and anxiety-prone Heather, an young artist who’s been given a commission to paint birds on postage stamps, has a quiet space in which to work and tend to her pet canaries uninterrupted.

It isn’t long, however, before both women’s idyllic summers are altered irrevocably: the alluring shorebirds—and the man who rescues them—begin to draw Heather out of the shell she’s cultivated toward a world of adventure, and maybe even love; at the same time, Cara’s life reels with sudden tragedy, and she wishes only to return to the beach house that had once been her port amidst life’s storms. When Heather refuses to budge from her newfound sanctuary, so begins the unlikeliest of rooming situations. While they start out as strangers, as everything around the women falls apart they learn that the only thing they can really rely on is each other.

And, like the migrating shorebirds that come to the island for the summer, these two women of different generations must rediscover their unique strengths so by summer’s end they, too, can take flight in ways they never imagined possible.


My Thoughts: I was drawn into the story of Primrose Cottage and the dynamics of a Southern family. I could envision that hard-boiled patriarch accustomed to dictating the lives and choices of the women. It struck a familiar tone with me, having experienced some of these things, even though I grew up far away from the South.

But the people born in the South sometimes migrate to other places, carrying their values with them. That was what my grandparents did, and how their values impacted my life.

When Cara Rutledge and Heather Wyatt joined forces, they discovered how to begin new journeys. Would Heather find what she needed and learn to stand on her own two feet? Would love be part of her new journey? What would Cara do in her new life, once she moved beyond the grief?

A delightful story of loss, friendship, and new beginnings, Beach House for Rent captivated me throughout. 4.5 stars.***My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: BEACH BREEZE, BY JOANNE DEMAIO

After a heartbreaking summer on the Connecticut shore, a group of beach friends is as adrift as an unmoored rowboat. When a dismayed Jason Barlow drives as far away from the sea as he can, leaving behind his wife, Maris, as well as their stately cottage on the bluff, that news hits like a sudden wave. Gathering over an intimate meal in a coastal diner, the friends make a solemn pact to lean on each other and not make any more rash decisions.

Which is all well and good, until each friend wavers–testing relationships, commitments, and especially love in the little beach community of Stony Point. But can the magic of the weathered boardwalk, whispering lagoon grasses, and sweet salt air cure what ails them?

My Thoughts: Reconnecting with the residents of Stony Point brought this reader back into all of their lives during a huge loss that seemingly took them each off course.

Jason Barlow was especially impacted by the sudden death of his new friend Sal DeLuca, who had become like a stand-in for Jason’s lost brother Neil. Struggling with his walled-off feelings, he takes to the road without a backward glance. But then he is brought up hard by the swell of his feelings, and calls his wife. Maris and her sister Eva join him, and for a bit, it seems as though Jason might have reached a defining moment.

But more will happen in the days and weeks ahead that will remind them all that sadness and sorrow are not easily forgotten.

Each member of the community is affected by Sal’s loss, and his mother Elsa shows just how much she is changed by it when she suddenly decides not to continue the beach inn renovation. A decision that will hit Jason hard, especially, as he was counting on the work, as were his employees. From one rash decision to another, the friendships are slowly unraveling, and their desperate effort to make changes leads to a pact. One that might curtail future wrong moves.

But will their pact help them move on, or will they have to take drastic steps to right the wrong choices they are making?

A beautifully written story that showed the strength of their bonds in the wake of tragedy, Beach Breeze carried me through to the final moments of an unforgettable summer…and earned 5 stars.

***