REVIEW: TELL ME EVERYTHING, BY AMY HATVANY

 

A happily married couple. A dance with a stranger at a bar.

One night—one seemingly insignificant choice—can change everything.

Jessica and Jake Snyder love each other, and their life together. Successful in their chosen careers, they reside in the picturesque, though at times stifling, Seattle suburb of Queens Ridge as they parent teenagers Ella and Tucker.

As so often happens in marriage, their romantic life falls casualty to busy schedules and repetitive routine, until one night, a stranger asks Jessica to dance. On a whim, Jake urges her to say yes, saying that he wants to watch this other man touch her, something that surprises Jessica by arousing her like never before. A door opens for them then, into a realm of exploration neither of them knew existed.

They create rules to protect their marriage, and are thrilled when their relationship is strengthened and enriched by deeper levels of communication and trust brought about by this exciting, but taboo behavior. That is, until Jessica keeps a secret from Jake and embarks on a tryst with an intriguing man from her past, who, when she tries to end things between them, decides to seek revenge.

What happens after that will threaten to destroy their world—and them.

Jessica, our first-person narrator in Tell Me Everything, boldly opens her story of sexual experimentation as part of her marriage, giving the reader a somewhat shocking introduction to their reasons for these choices, while keeping us intrigued throughout. As I got to know the characters and their history, all of which led to these outlets for them, I had that niggling sense that nothing would end well for them. Not because of their nontraditional choices, but because the scene was set early on for everything to unravel.

The story did veer off into unexpected places, and the effects on Jessica, Jake, and their family led to a closer scrutiny of their choices. In the end, they had the opportunity to work on their issues.

An interesting look at how social media can exacerbate the challenges in relationships brought another layer to the story. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: IF YOU ONLY KNEW, BY KRISTAN HIGGINS

 

Letting go of her ex-husband is harder than wedding-dress designer Jenny Tate expected…especially since his new wife wants to be Jenny’s new best friend. Needing closure, Jenny trades the Manhattan skyline for her hometown up the Hudson, where she’ll start her own business and bask in her sister Rachel’s picture-perfect family life…and maybe even find a little romance of her own with Leo, her downstairs neighbor, who’s utterly irresistible and annoyingly distant at the same time.

Rachel’s idyllic marriage, however, is imploding after she discovers what looks like her husband’s infidelity. She always thought she’d walk away in this situation but now she’s wavering, much to Jenny’s surprise. Rachel points to their parents’ perfect marriage as a shining example of patience and forgiveness; but to protect her sister, Jenny may have to tarnish that memory—and their rela-tionship¬—and reveal a family secret she’s been keeping since childhood.

 

If You Only Knew is full of all my favorite ingredients: sisters who are best friends; an idyllic setting near Manhattan; gorgeous wedding dresses created by Jenny, my favorite character; and gorgeous little girls, mothered by Rachel, whose not-so-perfect life is coming unglued.

That last part, of course, is less than wonderful, but I do enjoy reading about characters that are trying to make their lives work out, even as I’m yelling at them to stop putting up with the bad behavior, since they don’t seem to be listening to other characters who know them well.

With the turn of each page, I sank more and more into the world of these characters, hoping that they would find just what they needed, and that they would realize they don’t need perfect, just perfect moments now and then, A delightful book that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE MARRIAGE PACT, BY MICHELLE RICHMOND

Newlyweds Alice and Jake are a picture-perfect couple. Alice, once a singer in a well-known rock band, is now a successful lawyer. Jake is a partner in an up-and-coming psychology practice. Their life together holds endless possibilities. After receiving an enticing wedding gift from one of Alice’s prominent clients, they decide to join an exclusive and mysterious group known only as The Pact.

The goal of The Pact seems simple: to keep marriages happy and intact. And most of its rules make sense. Always answer the phone when your spouse calls. Exchange thoughtful gifts monthly. Plan a trip together once per quarter. . . .

Never mention The Pact to anyone.

Alice and Jake are initially seduced by the glamorous parties, the sense of community, their widening social circle of like-minded couples.

And then one of them breaks the rules.

The young lovers are about to discover that for adherents to The Pact, membership, like marriage, is for life. And The Pact will go to any lengths to enforce that rule.

My Thoughts: First of all, I couldn’t imagine why Jake and Alice would sign up for something so secretive and mysterious. Wouldn’t they have wondered about the “consequences” mentioned in the contracts? Wouldn’t the control the organization seemed to exert bother them?

I wanted them to somehow get out of the weird group before anything bad happened, but hovering overhead were the implicit threats, the idea of The Pact’s all-encompassing influence, and concerns about people who had mysteriously disappeared.

Jake was the first-person narrator, so it was probably natural for me to connect to his side of things, and even though he loved Alice, I could see how he worried about why she seemed more into the group than he was. Since she was a lawyer, I couldn’t quite imagine her willingness to be “all in.” But then I recalled the mention of her dysfunctional family, and it made more sense.

What is behind the mysterious meetings that JoAnne, an old college friend, arranges with Jake? Is she seriously in trouble, or is she part of some covert operation?

The whole idea that the group somehow monitored their every move made me feel creepy and also fascinated. I couldn’t stop reading. As the dangers in The Marriage Pact  escalated, I was hanging onto every word, hoping for a positive resolution. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE DAYLIGHT MARRIAGE, BY HEIDI PITLOR

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They were a mismatched pair. Lovell Hall and Hannah Monroe came from different worlds and different perspectives. She was born into a wealthy family with numerous privileges and no responsibilities. He had to work for everything, and his mind was of a scientific bent, while she loved the arts and her work with flowers. She had no practical abilities, and often forgot to pay the bills.

Sixteen years later, they are no closer together, and, in fact, they are living parallel lives. Communication is scanty. Their two children, Janine, 15, and Ethan, 8, are the glue that hold them together…along with their memories of happier times.

One devastating night changes everything. They argue, they fight, but they stop short of physical violence. Just smashed glass and harsh words. But enough to change the course of their world.

The next day, Hannah goes missing, and it would be many months before answers come about what happened to her.

Lovell and Hannah are alternating narrators, and her voice comes to us at carefully timed intervals, revealing what happened that day, leading us through each moment.

Meanwhile, the family left behind is falling apart, with Janine acting out with curses, a shaved head, and total defiance. Even as I could understand her feelings, I found most of her behavior appalling. She was a hard character to tolerate.

Lovell had his own struggles holding it together, and often lashed out as well.

The Daylight Marriage was a portrayal of how a marriage can unravel slowly, and then devastatingly crumble in just a few moments. The characters felt like real people struggling to make the most of their differences, but failing miserably. A tense and engaging story that was unforgettable. 5 stars.

REVIEW: WATERMELON, BY MARIAN KEYES

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When Claire Walsh Webster had her baby girl on February 15, the date was permanently etched on her mind for two reasons: it was her daughter’s birthday, and it was the day her husband James abandoned her for the woman with whom he had been having an affair.

To say that Claire’s life was turned upside down would be an understatement. Taking herself and her baby from London to Dublin was the first step toward creating her new life. Staying in the family home with her parents and two younger sisters did little for her self-esteem, however, and for days and weeks, she languished in the bed, often forgetting to get dressed.

Her younger sisters, Anna and Helen, were annoying distractions…to Claire and to this reader, but their voices did add a bit of humor to Watermelon (Walsh Family Book 1). Themes of betrayal, relationships, and family dynamics kept the story interesting, although it moved rather slowly for most of the story.

I was rooting for Claire, as she struggled to come to terms with the major changes in her life, and I enjoyed the internal monologues she carried on in a rather comic and snarky voice. The story is narrated from her first person perspective, and it was a funny voice indeed.

Would Claire manage to create a new life for herself? Would she find love again? And what would happen when James finally wanted to see her? Could his rather unexpected suggestions arouse her to take charge of her own life?

I recommend this story to those fascinated by family drama and issues of female empowerment, but don’t expect a fast-paced narrative or a plot that leads to any major conclusions. A fun, light read can be enough on some days, though. I liked this conclusion that Claire arrived at toward the end of the book, as she began to reclaim her life:

“When happiness makes a guest appearance in one’s life, it’s important to make the most of it. It may not stay around for long and when it has gone wouldn’t it be terrible to think that all the time one could have been happy was wasted worrying about when that happiness would be taken away?”

A 4 star read.

REVIEW: I SEE LONDON I SEE FRANCE, BY PAULITA KINCER

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After a ten-year marriage to Scott, Caroline is stunned when he simply walks out after an argument. An argument that didn’t seem that horrific, when looking back on it. So she is sure that he’ll cool off and come back.

But he doesn’t come back, and after sharing her feelings and frustrations with a friend in her former home town in Michigan, she comes to a decision. One that will alter her life for the foreseeable future.

She sells her minivan—the one she bought with her grandmother’s inheritance—and takes the plunge to try and find her passion. What does she want in life, and how can she reclaim that zest for living she recalls from her younger years? How did her domestic “servitude” take over her life and squelch all of the love and lust she once felt?

Following along as Caroline tours Europe with her three children, ages 9, 7, and 5, we can feel like we’re part of the journey. We see London, Scotland, Paris, and Provence through Caroline’s eyes, as she brings us the story from her first-person perspective. We also see what her life looked like back in her younger days, as she flashes back to 1996, when she first visited Provence, living as an au pair in her student days. And we revisit her unrequited lust for an old flame.

What will Caroline discover as she reclaims her life? Will her newly rediscovered writing help her work out her own issues? And once she has found her passion, can she sort out the rest of her life? Will she realize that she must rescue herself, instead of looking to a man to do so?

As I immersed myself in I See London I See France, I could totally relate to how Caroline felt submerged into a life that just happened to her, seemingly without her consent. Her choices seemed very impulsive, but sometimes when a woman feels as though her life has been taken over by outside forces, spontaneity is the appropriate response. Perhaps the only choice. I really liked how she confronted the uncomfortable issues enough to acknowledge her own complicity in her subjugation, and face what she needed to do to change things. A book I recommend to all women who must figure out how to realize their own potential. Five stars!