REVIEW: THE LOOK-ALIKE, BY ERICA SPINDLER

Sienna Scott grew up in the dark shadow of her mother’s paranoid delusions. Now, she’s returned home to confront her past and the unsolved murder that altered the course of her life.

In her mother’s shuttered house, an old fear that has haunted Sienna for years rears its ugly head—that it was she who had been the killer’s target that night. And now, with it, a new fear—that the killer not only intended to remedy his past mistake—he’s already begun. But are these fears any different from the ones that torment her mother?

As the walls close in, the line between truth and lie, reality and delusion disintegrate. Has Sienna’s worst nightmare come true? Or will she unmask a killer and finally prove she may be her mother’s look-alike, but she’s not her clone?

A page-turner that kept me in its grip, The Look-Alike reminded me of every favorite thriller of mine. A story with many possible suspects, intense moments that kept me glued to the pages, and characters that felt like real people.

I liked Sienna’s voice and how she stood by her family, even those who were difficult, like her mother, and her brother Brad who seems to have betrayed her.

I had to work through it all for a while, sorting through the clues and setting aside the red herrings, but in the end, the reveal was perfectly orchestrated and allowed for Sienna to put the pieces together. Definitely a five star read.

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

REVIEW: THEY ALL FALL DOWN, BY TAMMY COHEN

 

Hannah had a perfect life in London—a loving husband, a great job—until she did something shocking. Something that she doesn’t quite understand herself; and now she has landed herself in a high-risk psychiatric unit.

Since Hannah has been admitted, two women have died, including Charlie, one of her closest friends in the institution. It’s a high-risk unit, the authorities say. Deaths happen. But Hannah knows Charlie wouldn’t have killed herself. She is convinced there’s a serial killer picking off the patients one by one, passing their deaths off as suicides. But why? And who will believe her?

Corinne, Hannah’s mother, is worried sick about her eldest daughter. She hates that she’s ended up in the unit, though she knows it’s the best place for her to get the treatment she needs. At first, Corinne assumes Hannah’s outlandish claims about a killer in the unit are just another manifestation of her psychological condition, but as she starts to uncover strange inconsistencies surrounding the unit’s charismatic director, Dr. Roberts, she begins to wonder if her daughter might have stumbled upon the truth.

 

My Thoughts:  I flew through the pages of They All Fall Down, trying to figure out the mysterious deaths, and who, if anyone, was behind them.

Could Hannah be right about what was happening in the frightening new world in which she now lived?  The alternating narrators included Hannah, her mother Corinne, a therapist named Laura, and various others.  In each perspective, we learned a little bit more about the strange world inside.  Finally, we discovered the secret pasts of several characters, all of which led to the final reveal, just as danger galloped toward Hannah with every step.  4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FAMILY GATHERING, BY ROBYN CARR

 

Having left the military, Dakota Jones is at a crossroads in his life. With his elder brother and youngest sister happily settled in Sullivan’s Crossing, he shows up hoping to clear his head before moving on to his next adventure. But, like every visitor to the Crossing, he’s immediately drawn to the down-to-earth people and the seemingly simple way of life.

Dakota is unprepared for how quickly things get complicated. As a newcomer, he is on everyone’s radar—especially the single women in town. While he enjoys the attention at first, he’s really only attracted to the one woman who isn’t interested. And spending quality time with his siblings is eye-opening. As he gets to know them, he also gets to know himself and what he truly wants.

When all the Jones siblings gather for a family wedding, the four adults are drawn together for the first time in a way they never were as children. As they struggle to accept each other, warts and all, the true nature and strength of their bond is tested. But all of them come to realize that your family are the people who see you for who you really are and love you anyway. And for Dakota, that truth allows him to find the home and family he’s always wanted.

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed the two previous books in the Sullivan’s Crossing series, so The Family Gathering was a lovely reunion of characters from the past. Each book focuses on a primary character, and the supporting characters are there to fill out the story. The characters feel like old friends at this point, and their issues are very real, ranging from bad relationships to mental illness.

Dakota Jones is an interesting guy who has stayed away from family due to the traumas of their childhood. But some things happened to bring him to Colorado, where two of his siblings reside, and there he begins to feel the warmth of family connections. Especially when some strange events happen that seem to threaten his newfound stability.

I liked Sid, the young bartender who has her own intriguing backstory, and when Dakota and Sid begin to overcome their negative relationships of the past and trust again, I could see good things ahead for them. If the crazy women who are stalking Dakota can be stopped!

How will Dakota’s efforts to help his sister Sedona make him feel more connected? What will happen to further cement the relationship between him and Sid? A delightful 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: ALL THE BEST PEOPLE, BY SONJA YOERG

 

Vermont, 1972. Carole LaPorte has a satisfying, ordinary life. She cares for her children, balances the books for the family’s auto shop and laughs when her husband slow dances her across the kitchen floor. Her tragic childhood might have happened to someone else.
 
But now her mind is playing tricks on her. The accounts won’t reconcile and the murmuring she hears isn’t the television. She ought to seek help, but she’s terrified of being locked away in a mental hospital like her mother, Solange. So Carole hides her symptoms, withdraws from her family and unwittingly sets her eleven-year-old daughter Alison on a desperate search for meaning and power: in Tarot cards, in omens from a nearby river and in a mysterious blue glass box belonging to her grandmother.

My Thoughts: All the Best People takes the reader on an emotional journey into one family’s past; into the hidden corners of their lives, with the dark secrets that determined their fates.

Multiple narrators tell the story, a non-linear probe that takes the reader back and forth in time, starting in the present, but then showing the beginning of Solange’s marriage to Osborne, delving into their dynamics. We learn about the dark side of their marriage that led to Solange’s big mistake one night…and which ended up with her spending most of her life locked away in a psychiatric facility.

Discovering the truth might have been too little too late, for by the time the doctors learned the appropriate course of treatment for Solange, she had wasted away most of her life. In the end, however, the major revelations led to healing for Carole and her family. I was sad that it was almost too late for Solange, since most of her life had been spent locked up unnecessarily.

The story offers an awareness of the changes in the mental health system over the years, and fortunately shines a light on the errors that sentenced people to overly medicated lives with no chance of recovery. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE BEST AWFUL, BY CARRIE FISHER

 

When we left Suzanne Vale at the end of Carrie Fisher’s bestselling Postcards from the Edge, she had survived drug abuse, rehab, and Hollywood celebrity. The Best Awful takes Suzanne back to the edge with a new set of troubles—not the least of which is that her studio executive husband turned out to be gay and has left her for a man.

Lonely for a man herself, Suzanne decides that her medication is cramping her style, and she goes off her meds—with disastrous results. The “manic” side of the illness convinces her it would be a good idea to get a tattoo, cut off her hair, and head to Mexico with a burly ex-con and a stash of OxyContin. As she wakes up in Tijuana, the “depressive” side kicks in, leading Suzanne through a series of surreal psychotic episodes before landing her in a mental hospital. With the help of her movie star mom, a circle of friends, and even her ex-husband, she begins the long journey back to sanity.

My Thoughts: What I enjoy most about Suzanne Vale is her fierce desire to move beyond life’s disappointments. Certainly she finds herself up to her neck in alligators after the disappointment of her marriage. Even her joy at having her daughter Honey does not quite take the edge off of how much she hates being wrong about her ex-husband.

She has done pretty well at staying off the drugs, until…Yes, going off of the bipolar medication is a familiar tale for those with the illness. Life seems less wonderful when the journey turns flat and joyless.

How does Suzanne’s quest for a new man, while enjoying the ups and downs she experiences without the medications, turn into disaster? How does she find herself sliding down the surreal rabbit hole once again?

The Best Awful is a fictionalized tale filled with some of the author’s own experiences. As a result, we are gifted with an authentic journey through the meltdowns, the chaos, and life in a mental hospital. Fisher knows firsthand what her protagonist is going through, and we are rooting for Suzanne as she struggles. I enjoyed this book, although it wasn’t my favorite from the author. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: ECHOES OF FAMILY, BY BARBARA CLAYPOLE WHITE

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Marianne Stokes should be happy. She has a marriage with a man who adores her…and she returns the feeling. Together they run a music studio, and on the side, she works with teen girls who are broken. Just as she is broken. She took in Jade when she was a teenager, and together they are like mother and daughter.

But another car crash, reminiscent of one so long ago when she was a teenager, catapults her back into her broken state, and after a few months, she disappears. She does leave a note for her husband Darius, but she has never told him the secrets from her past. The crash that started her spiral downward.

Back in Newton Rushford, the village where it all took place, she revisits the grave of her lover Simon…and the memories. Nearby is Simon’s brother Gabriel, her once-upon-a-time best friend and first love, who is now a vicar. He takes her in, and on the way to revisiting the past, she goes off her meds…and the repercussions are phenomenal.

Echoes of Family opens up the box of secrets, and in the alternating narratives of Marianne, Gabriel, and Jade, we learn all the truths that are hidden in their hearts. Can Gabriel and Marianne finally confront what they have kept hidden? Will they once and for all bury the pain and move forward? Can Marianne return home and start anew, while Gabriel finds room in his heart for love again?

I connected to the broken characters and their efforts to rebuild their lives. This poignant excerpt is a reminder of how much Marianne has flailed about, trying to create something that cannot happen:

“Her own baby had died because of her, and she was stuck on repeat, trying to create a family out of nothing more than echoes. Past and present crashed into each other. There was no future. Everything stopped except for Gabriel’s heartbeat and a distant siren. Insanity—ugly and twisted even in death—was the devil that couldn’t be defeated. Madness was the victor; she quit.”

While I enjoyed the very realistic characters, and could empathize with Marianne’s torment, her constant self-absorption was frustrating, as every time she focused on herself, the pathway was littered with the pain she created in others. Yes, this is often the detritus of mental illness, but I felt for the others who were left behind, struggling. The author showed us a very real story, however, so for that, I am granting this book 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE IN-BETWEEN HOUR, BY BARBARA CLAYPOLE WHITE

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Hannah Linden and Will Shepard are two damaged souls, brought together by circumstances and bound by the legacies of their broken lives.

Will, a best-selling author, has left Manhattan to go to North Carolina to deal with his aging father Jacob, who is being evicted from his assisted living home, while Hannah, a holistic veterinarian, is coping with her suicidal son Galen.

Will is also carrying the burden of a deep dark secret, the loss of his five-year-old son Freddie.

Hannah rents a cottage to Will and his father, on the recommendation of Hannah’s friend Poppy, who was an art teacher at the facility where Jacob lived, so the connections begin to form between them.

The In-Between Hour is a character-driven story of people dealing with their tragedies and their losses. Set in rural North Carolina, I could smell the scents of the wooded area and see the beautiful colors of the “gloaming,” described in this passage:

“As they crossed the gravel, a thrush–nature’s flautist–announced the gloaming. Another thirty minutes and darkness would fall, but right now the house and the cottage were suspended between day and night, caught in that moment when nothing was defined and everything seemed possible.”

The author’s characters were flawed human beings learning to deal with the effects of the past, with the tragedy of mental illness in their loved ones, and with terrible losses. At the same time, they are struggling to find ways to connect with others, even when their first instincts are to pull away and isolate themselves. A story I recommend for those who enjoy books about relationships, family dynamics, and dealing with loss. 4.5 stars.