REVIEW: BRING HER HOME, BY DAVID BELL

 

Just a year and a half after the tragic death of his wife, Bill Price’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Summer, and her best friend, Haley, disappear. Days later, the girls are found in a city park. Haley is dead at the scene, while Summer is left beaten beyond recognition and clinging to life.
 
As Bill holds vigil over Summer’s bandaged body, the only sound the unconscious girl can make is one cryptic and chilling word: No. And the more time Bill spends with Summer, the more he wonders what happened to her. Or if the injured girl in the hospital bed is really his daughter at all.
 
When troubling new questions about Summer’s life surface, Bill is not prepared for the aftershocks. He’ll soon discover that both the living and the dead have secrets. And that searching for the truth will tear open old wounds that pierce straight to the heart of his family…

My Thoughts: Our primary narrator in Bring Her Home is Bill Price, the father of Summer, one of the missing teenagers. One girl was dead, the other badly beaten, and one is still missing. We soon realize the ultimate dilemma in a situation like this. Who is the girl in the hospital, what happened to her, and will we ever know the truth about what happened.

Many red herrings and surprise twists kept me intrigued throughout, and I soon realized that I didn’t trust anyone. Even though I was primarily rooting for the father to find his daughter and his answers, I also felt troubled by some issues that came to light through the investigation. The presence of Bill’s sister Paige added an interesting layer, as she offered helpful insights, and their conversations gave us a hint of their family life as children.

Who can a parent trust in this situation, and what more will be revealed before the end? How does the death of Julia, Bill’s wife and Summer’s mother, figure into what is now happening? The answers did not come easily, and the unexpected twist at the end left me pondering all the nefarious characters and their motives. An intriguing story that left me wondering throughout. 4.5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: THE HOUSE SWAP, BY REBECCA FLEET

 

When Caroline and Francis receive an offer to house swap–from their city apartment to a house in a leafy, upscale London suburb–they jump at the chance for a week away from home, their son, and the tensions that have pushed their marriage to the brink.

As the couple settles in, the old problems that permeate their marriage–his unhealthy behaviors, her indiscretions–start bubbling to the surface. But while they attempt to mend their relationship, their neighbor, an intense young woman, is showing a little too much interest in their activities.

Meanwhile, Caroline slowly begins to uncover some signs of life in the stark house–signs of her life. The flowers in the bathroom or the music might seem innocent to anyone else–but to her they are clues. It seems the person they have swapped with is someone who knows her, someone who knows the secrets she’s desperate to forget. . . .

 

My Thoughts: From the very beginning of The House Swap, the reader knows that nothing good can come of this strange exchange of houses.

Who owns the house in which Caroline and Francis are staying? What motivated the swap, and why does Caroline not immediately suspect that something strange and obsessive is happening?

A weird and intrusive girl next door adds to the creepiness.

The book is mostly narrated by Caroline, and flashes back to the past and forward to the present. We learn about the issues in the marriage…and I had to ask myself over and over why the two are even trying.

But as Caroline starts receiving messages that suggest a mysterious presence in her home, our senses are heightened. But then the messages Caroline is receiving start to make sense, and a dark secret from the past is revealed.

The story unfolded slowly, and sometimes the pace was frustrating. But the story was worth hanging in for its shocking conclusion. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE GUNNERS, BY REBECCA KAUFFMAN

 

The story introduces Mikey Callahan, a thirty-year-old who is suffering from the clouded vision of macular degeneration. He struggles to establish human connections—even his emotional life is a blur.

As the novel begins, he is reconnecting with “The Gunners,” his group of childhood friends, after one of their members has committed suicide. Sally had distanced herself from all of them before ending her life, and she died harboring secrets about the group and its individuals. Mikey especially needs to confront dark secrets about his own past and his father. How much of this darkness accounts for the emotional stupor Mikey is suffering from as he reaches his maturity? And can The Gunners, prompted by Sally’s death, find their way to a new day? The core of this adventure, made by Mikey, Alice, Lynn, Jimmy, and Sam, becomes a search for the core of truth, friendship, and forgiveness.

My Thoughts: I was drawn to The Gunners by a curiosity about friends growing up together and then growing apart. The characters sounded relatable, and the story did not disappoint.

Mikey’s voice is prominent, and we learn more about the others through his eyes, cloudy though they were. The analogy of cloudy vision (physically) carries over into the emotional “clouds” of family secrets.

How each of the characters viewed Sally, the character with the darkest secrets, since she took a drastic step in her own life, would reveal much about each of them.

The get-together after Sally’s funeral reminded me of another story that I loved, The Big Chill, a film I enjoyed in the 1980s. Trying to deconstruct the choices friends make, as well as struggling to uncover the dark secrets of the past and present, kept me turning pages.

As one would expect, some of the characters are more likable than others. Sally’s brash tone probably covered up some insecurities, but she was sometimes hard to take. Sam was pleasant enough, but he overdid the apologetic and sometimes obsequious effort to be liked.

I felt sorry for Mikey, whose life was undone by the uncovering of some of the secrets. But as time passed, and as the group enjoyed more get-togethers, the power and joy of their connections left me with such a warm feeling. Almost as if I had become part of their story. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE PERFECT MOTHER, BY AIMEE MOLLOY

 

A night out. A few hours of fun. That’s all it was meant to be.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a group of new moms whose babies were born in the same month. Twice a week, they get together in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for some much-needed adult time.

When the women go out for drinks at the hip neighborhood bar, they want a fun break from their daily routine. But on this hot Fourth of July night, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is taken from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but her fellow May Mothers insisted everything would be fine. Now he is missing. What follows is a heart-pounding race to find Midas, during which secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are destroyed. 

My Thoughts: The Perfect Mother is narrated by multiple characters, and begins in the first person voice of one of them. She seems to be anonymous, and throughout the story, I thought I knew who she was. But only in the final moments is her identity known.

To say that first-time mothers are often insecure, not knowing the right way to do the various tasks connected to being the “perfect” mother, would be an understatement. Finding the May Mothers group seemed a great way to form their own community to support them and enhance their knowledge.

What each of them brings to the group is her best face, hiding the various secrets in the past.

So when baby Midas goes missing after the mothers take a night out at a local bar, it is only a matter of time until these secrets begin to surface.

Winnie has a glamorous past, so hiding her background makes her seem standoffish…until the truth comes out. But then the media makes so much of it all, turning her into someone who might do something terrible, like hurt her own baby.

The others have faith in her, not believing that she could harm her baby, and they all offer their thoughts to the police when interviewed. Some of them, like Francie, go above and beyond to persuade the police to look elsewhere…until they brush her aside, annoyed with her behavior.

Numerous possibilities are considered, and while the search continues, the other mothers deal with their own lives and their challenges. Francie is struggling from sleep deprivation and also from her obsessive need to help with the search. Collette is ghost-writing a book for the mayor, but finds that he is often unavailable for meetings, so her work is less than stellar. Nell seems to have a lot more to hide, and as her secrets come out, the media attention flickers from Winnie and Midas to her.

I was totally blindsided by what had actually happened, and who was behind everything. As I rapidly turned the pages, I felt breathless from the intensity of it all. A page turner! 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NEW NEIGHBORS, BY SIMON LELIC

 

Londoners Jack and Syd found their dream home: lots of space, a great location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

Everything is exactly what they hoped for when they move in–except Jack makes a disturbing discovery in the attic, and Syd begins to wonder about the girl next door. And they each keep the other in the dark.

A mistake.

Because someone has just been killed outside their back door, and now the police are watching them.

This is their chance to prove they’re innocent–or to get away with murder.

Whose story do you believe?

My Thoughts: Alternating narrators tell the story of The New Neighbors. Jack and Syd have reasons to keep secrets. Now the past is creeping up on them, but what will happen before they are finally free?

The story goes back and forth in time, and just when we think we know what is happening, more of the past is revealed…and we are suddenly unsure of both Jack and Syd. Neither appears reliable, and the reasons for their secrets and lies add complex layers to the tale.

Syd has taken the young neighbor girl Elsie under her wing. When she sees how Elsie’s father treats her, she is reminded of her own terrible father, and about how she needed someone to step up for her. Being a protector feels like finally escaping the past.

Themes of controlling and violent fathers hover throughout the story; from Syd’s father to Elsie’s, we can see the damage that a bad father can do. Damage that will affect the daughters moving forward. But it is also possible for at least one damaged daughter to show strength and courage, finding a way to extricate herself from what might seem like a permanent nightmare.

Until the very end, I kept vacillating, trying to decide the truth. Even as the author threw different possible scenarios into the mix, I kept hoping that, finally, all would be revealed. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SAINTS FOR ALL OCCASIONS, BY J. COURTNEY SULLIVAN

 

Nora and Theresa Flynn are twenty-one and seventeen when they leave their small village in Ireland and journey to America. Nora is the responsible sister; she’s shy and serious and engaged to a man she isn’t sure that she loves. Theresa is gregarious; she is thrilled by their new life in Boston and besotted with the fashionable dresses and dance halls on Dudley Street. But when Theresa ends up pregnant, Nora is forced to come up with a plan—a decision with repercussions they are both far too young to understand. Fifty years later, Nora is the matriarch of a big Catholic family with four grown children: John, a successful, if opportunistic, political consultant; Bridget, quietly preparing to have a baby with her girlfriend; Brian, at loose ends after a failed baseball career; and Patrick, Nora’s favorite, the beautiful boy who gives her no end of heartache. Estranged from her sister, Theresa is a cloistered nun, living in an abbey in rural Vermont. Until, after decades of silence, a sudden death forces Nora and Theresa to confront the choices they made so long ago. A graceful, supremely moving novel from one of our most beloved writers, Saints for All Occasions explores the fascinating, funny, and sometimes achingly sad ways a secret at the heart of one family both breaks them and binds them together.
My Thoughts: Saints for All Occasions can be described primarily as a family saga, richly layered with the hopes and dreams of characters who left their homeland of Ireland and settled in Massachusetts. Their Catholic faith dictated many of their choices, and as they began their new lives in mid-century America, they tried to fit in while still maintaining their family values.

Two sisters, Nora and Theresa Flynn, could not have been more different from one another. Nora took on the role of the responsible one, while Theresa flourished by attending dance clubs while also planning for a teaching job.

But their hopes and dreams took a detour when something happened to Theresa. An unexpected event that would change both of their lives. Over time, their small choices would add up to a life, albeit a life filled with secrets. Some of those would stay with them forever.

Alternating narratives take us back and forth in time, showing us what was going on with each sister from the beginning until their later years.

The second generation of immigrants had a very different take on what their lives should look like, and a departure from the values of their parents would create conflicts. But Nora, as the matriarch, had a way of ignoring the things she did not like, almost as if she had detached herself from the realities of life.

Through the multiple narrators, we came to know the characters, fleshed out and flawed, who looked like real people we might have known. In the end, a sense of acceptance seemed to prevail…but many secrets still remained. As in life, sometimes there is no true closure. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HER EVERY FEAR, BY PETER SWANSON

 

Growing up, Kate Priddy was always a bit neurotic, experiencing momentary bouts of anxiety that exploded into full blown panic attacks after an ex-boyfriend kidnapped her and nearly ended her life. When Corbin Dell, a distant cousin in Boston, suggests the two temporarily swap apartments, Kate, an art student in London, agrees, hoping that time away in a new place will help her overcome the recent wreckage of her life.

But soon after her arrival at Corbin’s grand apartment on Beacon Hill, Kate makes a shocking discovery: his next-door neighbor, a young woman named Audrey Marshall, has been murdered.

When the police question her about Corbin, a shaken Kate has few answers, and many questions of her own—curiosity that intensifies when she meets Alan Cherney, a handsome, quiet tenant who lives across the courtyard, in the apartment facing Audrey’s. Alan saw Corbin surreptitiously come and go from Audrey’s place, yet he’s denied knowing her. Then, Kate runs into a tearful man claiming to be the dead woman’s old boyfriend, who insists Corbin did the deed the night that he left for London.

When she reaches out to her cousin, he proclaims his innocence and calms her nerves . . . until she comes across disturbing objects hidden in the apartment—and accidently learns that Corbin is not where he says he is. Could Corbin be a killer? And what about Alan? Kate finds herself drawn to this appealing man who seems so sincere, yet she isn’t sure. Jetlagged and emotionally unstable, her imagination full of dark images caused by the terror of her past, Kate can barely trust herself . . . So how could she take the chance on a stranger she’s just met?

Yet the danger Kate imagines isn’t nearly as twisted and deadly as what’s about to happen. When her every fear becomes very real.

And much, much closer than she thinks.

My Thoughts: Multiple narrators take the reader back and forth in time within the pages of Her Every Fear. It was easy to immerse myself in the stories of the narrators, as they fleshed out their own perspectives. When Kate had a panic attack upon first arriving in Boston, I could feel the fear and anxiety, and wanted to also experience the calmness finally settling within her body.

What we learn about each of the characters will help us put together the pieces of the puzzle, specifically who might have killed Audrey Marshall, but also what motivated the killer(s).

We learn the “who” fairly early on, but we are eager to keep turning pages to find out whether or not Kate will be safe when she is tucked away in Corbin’s apartment, and which one of the people she sees every day might be a killer.

The intensity mounts as one of the characters lands in Boston, with an unexpected plan, and we are eager to discover who will still be standing after a very disturbing and twisted encounter.

It was hard to review this book, for fear of spoilers, so suffice it to say that you won’t want to stop reading until the final page. And you might want to read only in the daytime. This is my first book by the author, but it won’t be my last. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: BLOOD SISTERS, BY JANE CORRY

 

Three little girls set off to school one sunny morning. Within an hour, one of them is dead.

Fifteen years later, Kitty can’t speak and has no memory of the accident that’s to blame. She lives in an institution, unlikely ever to leave. But that doesn’t keep her from being frightened when she encounters an eerily familiar face.

Art teacher Alison looks fine on the surface. But the surface is a lie. She’s struggling to make ends meet and to forget the past. When a teaching job at a prison opens up, she takes it, despite her fears. Maybe this is her chance to set things right. Then she starts to receive alarming notes; next, her classroom erupts in violence.

Meanwhile, someone is watching both Kitty and Alison. Someone who never forgot what happened that day. Someone who wants revenge. And only another life will do. . .

 

My Thoughts: Alternating narrators, Alison and Kitty, reveal the story in Blood Sisters. Dual timelines flash back to 2001, when an accident happened, to 2016, when Alison and Kitty are dealing with events in very different ways.

From the beginning, we are aware that something led up to that accident, something that still haunts both sisters. Alison buries her feelings in her art…and occasional cutting.

Kitty, unable to speak, has flashes of memory, but is unable to express any of her thoughts.

Even when, in moments we see in 2001, we learn about what happened, there is also a deep and underlying darkness that has not come forth. What are the characters hiding?

In the beginning, I found the story slow and sometimes confusing. I didn’t warm up to the characters until we began seeing the moments from the past…and I realized the depths of rivalry between the sisters. As I kept turning the pages, I was captivated by finding out just one more secret. There were so many, and so many surprising twists and turns. By the end, I kept waiting for the final one that might reveal the unexpected darkness in each of them. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: LIE WITH ME, BY SABINE DURRANT

 

It starts with a lie. The kind we’ve all told – to a former acquaintance we can’t quite place but still, for some reason, feel the need to impress. The story of our life, embellished for the benefit of the happily married lawyer with the kids and the lovely home.

And the next thing you know, you’re having dinner at their house, and accepting an invitation to join them on holiday – swept up in their perfect life, the kind you always dreamed of…

Which turns out to be less than perfect. But by the time you’re trapped and sweating in the relentless Greek sun, burning to escape the tension all around you – by the time you start to realize that, however painful the truth might be, it’s the lies that cause the real damage…
… well, by then, it could just be too late.

My Thoughts: Lie With Me is a gripping tale narrated in the first person voice of Paul Morris, a writer, whose life is not turning out the way he had hoped. When he runs into an old Cambridge University friend, Andrew Hopkins, he is less than thrilled. There is something about Andrew that always makes him feel…less than. But he can’t show any of this, so he accepts an invitation to dinner.

The lies come tripping off his tongue when Andrew, and then the other guests, ask questions about his work, his life, etc. Little white lies, of course. But the closer he gets to them all, including an attractive woman named Alice Mackenzie, with whom he quickly becomes involved, he finds himself caught up in a web of lies.

The invitation to a Greek holiday comes later, but by then, the story of his life is caught in the trap he has created.

In Greece, nothing is the way he had hoped, and soon the chaos of the friends and their families, their expectations, and Alice’s quest to find a young girl who disappeared ten years before…all of it becomes a disaster in the making. Andrew’s behavior is strange, and so is Alice’s. Are the two of them involved? Are they keeping secrets? Why are odd things happening around the house, where a renovation is taking place?

My thoughts about the characters were negative, overall. Alice was evasive, sneaky, and she and Andrew always seemed to be huddled somewhere, whispering. I didn’t trust either of them, even though Paul had not been truthful about a lot of things. The teens, as usual, were also creating havoc.

Before the story comes to a crashing conclusion, we realize that nothing is as it seems, and Paul is in a lot of trouble. By the time Paul discovers the truth, it is too late for him. Unless someone can extricate him from the mess created not just by his lies…but by the secrecy and manipulation of others. The ending left us hanging…but hopeful. 4.5 stars.

 ***

REVIEW: HERE WE LIE, BY PAULA TREICK DEBOARD

 

Megan Mazeros and Lauren Mabrey are complete opposites on paper. Megan is a girl from a modest Midwest background, and Lauren is the daughter of a senator from an esteemed New England family. When they become roommates at a private women’s college, they forge a strong, albeit unlikely, friendship, sharing clothes, advice and their most intimate secrets.

The summer before senior year, Megan joins Lauren and her family on their private island off the coast of Maine. It should be a summer of relaxation, a last hurrah before graduation and the pressures of post-college life. Then late one night, something unspeakable happens, searing through the framework of their friendship and tearing them apart. Many years later, Megan publicly comes forward about what happened that fateful night, revealing a horrible truth and threatening to expose long-buried secrets.

My Thoughts: In the beginning of Here We Lie, a press conference is about to start. Lauren Mabrey manages to push her way into the room, where she waits for what is about to be divulged.

Flash back to the late 1990s, where we meet Megan Mazeros, living in Kansas, watching her father die very slowly of mesothelioma. She foregoes the beginning of college while helping out her family.

A year later, she moves to Connecticut to attend Keale College in Scofield. She doesn’t meet Lauren until later in the year, but despite the drastic differences between them, they become fast friends.

However, the friendship is never really equal, since Lauren’s life of privilege keeps her on a slightly elevated plane.

When something traumatic happens to Megan the summer before their final year of college, Lauren doesn’t even bother to listen. She blames Megan, and the rift between them is insurmountable.

Alternately narrated by Lauren and Megan, I could not put this story down. It brought out a timely reminder of power and privilege, and how there are always those who are considered more credible than others. I rooted for both girls as they struggled on their way to becoming women, as they each had their own obstacles. Lauren came from a world of privilege, but her family treated her as “less than.” Her desires and ambitions did not fit the family image.

Megan suffered on the other side of that divide, and it took many years to bring her into her own. An unforgettable story that could have been one of today’s headlines. 5 stars.

***