BOOK REVIEW: LITTLE DISASTERS, BY SARAH VAUGHAN

You think you know her…but look a little closer.

She is a stay-at-home mother-of-three with boundless reserves of patience, energy, and love. After being friends for a decade, this is how Liz sees Jess.

Then one moment changes everything.

Dark thoughts and carefully guarded secrets surface—and Liz is left questioning everything she thought she knew about her friend, and about herself. The truth can’t come soon enough.

 

When  little Betsey Curtis suffers an unexplainable head injury and is hospitalized, questions come from the hospital, the police, and even the people closest to the mother, Jess Curtis. What creates the most doubt is the sense that Jess is hiding something, which is why her story doesn’t add up.

The ER doctor who first saw Betsey is Liz Trenchard, who is a friend of Jess, so she is taken off the case. But she can’t stay completely out of searching for answers, albeit unofficially.

Little Disasters takes us back and forth in time, revealing the ins and outs of the friendships between the characters. As we follow the timelines and the clues, we slowly come to know what happened. But who will be most damaged if the full truth comes out?

As we follow along with Jess’s internal monologue, woven with her dark fears, we also glimpse Liz’s past and something that happened in her childhood. Can anyone be truly exempt from blame when bad things happen?

As we sort through the clues, we soon realize the emotional issues that plague Jess, and even how Liz’s own childhood traumas affect her now.

A sly character adds a menacing layer to the story, and when all is revealed, much can be resolved. 4.5 stars.

***

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: HIS & HERS, BY ALICE FEENEY

 

When a woman is murdered in Blackdown, a quintessentially British village, newsreader Anna Andrews is reluctant to cover the case. Detective Jack Harper is suspicious of her involvement, until he becomes a suspect in his own murder investigation.

Someone isn’t telling the truth, and some secrets are worth killing to keep.

Narrated by alternating characters, His & Hers weaves a tale of darkness, secrets, school bullying, and murder. As we follow the path between the past and the present, we are shown connections that will lead us to the answers.

Anna Andrews tells “her” view of events, while her ex-husband Jack Harper reveals his perspective.

A group of girls that were connected at school, and who were not exactly friends— but frenemies—do not appear to share connections in the present. But then we begin to note how their present-day lives do intersect…when they all begin to turn up as murder victims, one by one.

Who is targeting them? Not knowing who to trust, we muddle along. Just when we begin to figure it out, the author throws a few dramatic curves, and we are biting our nails as we plummet toward the denouement.

An alternate narrative from the killer reveals the details as they unfold, and we finally know the identity of that individual at the very end. I loved trying to guess who did what, and the satisfactory conclusion for my favorite characters left me smiling. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE REQUEST, BY DAVID BELL

Ryan Francis has it all—great job, wonderful wife, beautiful child—and he loves posting photos of his perfect life on social media. Until the night his friend Blake asks him to break into a woman’s home to retrieve incriminating items that implicate Blake in an affair. Ryan refuses to help, but when Blake threatens to reveal Ryan’s darkest secret—which could jeopardize everything in Ryan’s life—Ryan has no choice but to honor Blake’s request.

When he arrives at the woman’s home, Ryan is shocked to find her dead—and just as shocked to realize he knows her. Then his phone chimes, revealing a Facebook friend request from the woman. With police sirens rapidly approaching, Ryan flees, wondering why his friend was setting him up for murder.

Determined to keep his life intact and to clear his name, Ryan must find the real murderer—but solving the crime may lead him closer to home than he ever could have imagined.

 

From the very beginning pages of The Request, we can tell that Ryan is in for some difficult times ahead, and the past is about to come back to haunt his present.

With friends like Blake, who needs enemies? There is so much wrong with Blake’s request and the demands he is making, but Ryan is too caught up in it all to unpack them. The fact of a woman blackmailing him at the same time confuses it all, but definitely kept me turning the pages.

There is something a little off about Amanda, although we can’t pinpoint what is wrong with her, other than possibly being overwhelmed with being home all day every day with a new baby.

Will she figure out the dark secrets Ryan is hiding, and will Ryan be able to deal with Blake’s demands while fending off the blackmailer?

Issues of trust/mistrust and dark secrets combined with technical issues like social media hacking kept me intrigued throughout. A compelling story that was intense and suspenseful. 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: MY DARK VANESSA, BY KATE ELIZABETH RUSSELL

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past.
But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

 

 My Dark Vanessa, narrated by our protagonist, begins in 2017, just as the vocal wave of women’s voices about the men that used and abused them hits the media and becomes a movement. We see that Vanessa is struggling with its impact, and the strength of her denial keeps her rooted in her own view of events.

Swinging back to the year 2000, we see the tentative beginnings of what Vanessa has dubbed a love relationship with her English teacher, Jacob Strane, and how she cannot seem to keep away from him. As much as he has manipulated her through his praise and the way he carefully asks for her consent along the way, we also view how Vanessa has responded to him as if they are in a consensual relationship. In fact, he defines her life for several years. She doesn’t see the inappropriateness of their relationship, but a part of her must sense that it is, since she is secretive and defensive.

Vanessa’s narrative offers the reader a detailed and descriptive view of the connection she feels to Strane, and the more we learn, the more we become aware of how she is trapped by the hold he has on her. She seems unable to accurately portray their reality in her own mind, idealizing the relationship and finding herself stuck by her own inability to move beyond it.

A vivid and dark portrayal of a form of addiction that glues the participants together by their own denial and desperate need for the connection, the book is one I could not put down and therefore, earned 5 stars from me.

***

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: HAVE YOU SEEN ME?, BY KATE WHITE

The key to her missing memories could bring relief—or unlock her worst nightmares.

On a cold, rainy morning, finance journalist Ally Linden arrives soaked to the bone at her Manhattan office, only to find that she’s forgotten her keycard. When her boss shows, he’s shocked to see her—because, he explains, she hasn’t worked there in five years.

Ally knows her name, but is having trouble coming up with much beyond that, though after a trip to the psychiatric ER, she begins to piece together important facts: she lives on the Upper West Side; she’s now a freelance journalist; she’s married to a terrific man named Hugh. More memories materialize and yet she still can’t recall anything about the previous two days. Diagnosed as having experienced a dissociative state, she starts to wonder if it may have been triggered by something she saw. Could she have witnessed an accident—or worse—had something happened to her?

Desperate for answers, Ally tries to track where she spent the missing days, but every detail she unearths points to an explanation that’s increasingly ominous, and it’s clear someone wants to prevent her from learning where those forty-eight hours went. In order to uncover the truth, Ally must dig deep into the secrets of her past—and outsmart the person who seems determined to silence her.

 

Ally’s nightmare trauma has turned into her new reality, as she tries to sort through her actions in the days that went missing. Clues she gathered from the depths of her mind and her memories only led to partial answers until a private detective begins helping her figure out her actions during the missing hours.

Another clue comes in the form of a past traumatic event that might have triggered her break from reality.

But before she finally reaches a resolution, she finds herself in more danger than she could have imagined, and from a totally unexpected source. Along the way, she realizes there are few people she can even trust.

Have You Seen Me? is a captivating book that kept me turning pages until suddenly the pieces fell into place. 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: DEAD TO HER, BY SARAH PINBOROUGH

Marriage can be murder…

SOMETHING OLD

Marcie’s affair with Jason Maddox catapulted her into the world of the elite.
Old money, old ties, old secrets. Marcie may have married into this world—
but she’ll never be part of it.

SOMETHING NEW

Then Jason’s boss brings back a new wife from his trip to London.
Young, attractive, reckless—nobody can take their eyes off Keisha.
Including Marcie’s husband.

SOMETHING YOU CAN NEVER, EVER UNDO…

Some people would kill for the life Marcie has—what will she do to keep it?

 

Marcie is trying to fit into her new life in Savannah without letting the past keep her captive.

Keisha wants the money she would have if her wealthy and brutish husband dies.

Jason longs to take over the company from his boss.

All of these people have secrets, and the darkness that keeps them from being truly good will surely dictate what happens next in their lives.

Dead to Her unfolds from the perspectives of them all, and we are left trying to guess who has suddenly turned a corner into true darkness. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the author surprised me in the end.

An enjoyable read, but it seemed to take forever to read it as I sank further into the darkness with the characters. 4.5 stars.

***