REVIEW: FOLLOW ME, BY KATHLEEN BARBER

Everyone wants new followers…until they follow you home.

Audrey Miller has an enviable new job at the Smithsonian, a body by reformer Pilates, an apartment door with a broken lock, and hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers to bear witness to it all. Having just moved to Washington, DC, Audrey busies herself impressing her new boss, interacting with her online fan base, and staving off a creepy upstairs neighbor with the help of the only two people she knows in town: an ex-boyfriend she can’t stay away from and a sorority sister with a high-powered job and a mysterious past.

But Audrey’s faulty door may be the least of her security concerns. Unbeknownst to her, her move has brought her within striking distance of someone who’s obsessively followed her social media presence for years—from her first WordPress blog to her most recent Instagram Story. No longer content to simply follow her carefully curated life from a distance, he consults the dark web for advice on how to make Audrey his and his alone. In his quest to win her heart, nothing is off-limits—and nothing is private.

 

From the very beginning of Follow Me, I knew that the story of Audrey would be creepy and probably would not end well. Who would so openly announce her every move, every thought, and even every wish? Certainly not a savvy young woman who should know better. But there is something completely narcissistic about Audrey that could be her undoing.

Alternating narrators tell the story of Audrey and Cat, Audrey’s somewhat pathetic friend, alongside the tale of an obsessive stalker who was seemingly everywhere, but then completely nowhere when the police are called. Could their paths have crossed in some innocent way over the years and could he be someone destined to be her true love?

At times I was frustrated with Audrey’s blatant self-obsession, those actions that kept her in the eye of danger. It would be inevitable that these characters’ paths would cross in a tragic way.

I kept turning the pages, despite the parts that seemed to slog, until the intense end that left me wondering what might happen next. 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 GOOD NEIGHBOR, BY A. J. BANNER

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Shadow Cove, Washington, is the kind of town everyone dreams about—quaint streets, lush forests, good neighbors. That’s what Sarah thinks as she settles into life with her new husband, Dr. Johnny McDonald. But all too soon she discovers an undercurrent of deception. And one October evening when Johnny is away, sudden tragedy destroys Sarah’s happiness.

Dazed and stricken with grief, she and Johnny begin to rebuild their shattered lives. As she picks up the pieces of her broken home, Sarah discovers a shocking secret that forces her to doubt everything she thought was true—about her neighbors, her friends, and even her marriage. With each stunning revelation, Sarah must ask herself, Can we ever really know the ones we love?

My Thoughts: From the first moments of sheer terror in the prologue to the slowly unfolding secrets and tragedies of the following pages, The Good Neighbor captured me. The setting in Shadow Cove was the perfect place to start a home and family, and the neighborhood with seemingly friendly people made it just the kind of place Sarah and her husband Johnny had been seeking.

But Sarah, a writer of children’s books, starts to feel a niggling doubt almost immediately. It starts with the next door neighbors, Chad and Monique. Monique’s seductive ways hint at more beneath the surface when she whispers to the men in the room.

Several strange phone calls suggest a stalker, but Sarah also fears that her husband has been unfaithful to her.

Why does the realtor, Eris Coghlan, come across as a little bit too accommodating? What about the flirtatious way that Theresa Minkowski, another neighbor, seems to behave around Johnny? Is Sarah just insecure, or is there more going on?

I was surprised, but not totally stunned when events unfolded as they did, and I had little trouble figuring things out. On the last page, however, another whopper was unleashed, reminding us that secrets just keep coming once the genie is released from the bottle. 4 stars.

ratings-worms-4-cropped***

REVIEW: IN A DARK, DARK WOOD, BY RUTH WARE

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Leonora (Nora/Lee) Shaw writes crime thrillers, and she loves the reclusive world she has created in her tiny flat in Hackney. But there are reasons for her isolation. Ten years before, she and her lover James Cooper broke up after something between them became too much to handle…and his mysterious text, totally unexpected, made the hurt impossible to overcome.

Now Nora is struggling with another e-mail, from a woman named Flo, inviting her to a “hen-do” for Clare Cavendish, another friend whom she hasn’t seen for ten years. Clare is getting married, and Nora is surprised at the invitation, but when her closest friend Nina agrees to come along, Nora accepts.

Here’s where In a Dark, Dark Wood becomes even more dark and sinister. Flo’s aunt’s cabin, The Glass House, is on the edge of a dark wood, and all the glass facing those woods creates a truly frightening ambience. What makes the weekend even more sinister is the sense that both Flo and Clare are playing some weird games…some of which are very painful for Nora. When she finds out who Clare is marrying, she wants to leave immediately. But events unfold in a tragic way, making that impossible.

What were Flo and Clare up to? Were they as innocent as they pretend to be? What horrendous event will turn the creepy weekend into tragedy, and how will Nora find the answers that seem to elude her? How do mysterious text messages lend another layer of mystery to the tale? What was the secret between James and Nora that started the events in the present?

My pages flew by, as I tried to figure out what was happening. I accurately guessed who had engineered the sinister and tragic events, but I liked watching Nora try to figure it all out. I also loved the descriptions in the beginning and at the end which show how much “home” means to Nora…and how she will fight to get back to that wonderful feeling. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “ECHOES OF FAMILY”

Married to Books-BOOKISH LOGO

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

My featured book today is Echoes of Family, by Barbara Claypole White.

 

 

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Beginning: (UNC Medical Center, North Carolina, March)

If purgatory exists, it comes without sound.  Nothing to deaden thoughts.

Marianne had long believed that to be true, and the handful of compliant crazies in the waiting room proved her right.  No one spoke; no one moved; no one exchanged glances.

***

56:  What the hell was he doing curled up asleep outside her door?  She backed into the wall and squinted hard.  He was oddly cocoonlike in a sleeping bag.

***

Synopsis:  Sometimes the only way through darkness is to return to where it began.

Marianne Stokes fled England at seventeen, spiraling into the manic depression that would become her shadow. She left behind secrets, memories, and tragedy: one teen dead, and her first love, Gabriel, badly injured. Three decades later she’s finally found peace in the North Carolina recording studio she runs with her husband, Darius, and her almost-daughter, Jade…until another fatality propels her back across the ocean to confront the long-buried past.

In her picturesque childhood village, the first person she meets is the last person she wants to see again: Gabriel. Now the village vicar, he takes her in without question, and ripples of what if reverberate through both their hearts. As Marianne’s mind unravels, Jade and Darius track her down. Tempers clash when everyone tries to help, but only by finding the courage to face her illness can Marianne heal herself and her offbeat family.

***

What do you think?  Do the excerpts and/or the synopsis grab you?  Come on by and let’s chat.

***

BOOKISH FRIDAY: “THE RED CAR”

Married to Books-BOOKISH LOGO

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

Today’s feature is a recent download:  The Red Car, by Marcy Dermansky, is a wildly imaginative, rebellious, and tender tale of independence.

 

 

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Beginning:  (Prologue)

It was a surprise to open The New York Times in my parents’ kitchen and see a picture of Jonathan Beene.  He had won an award for business innovation.  They give awards like that.  He was the founder of an Internet tech company that allowed individuals to fund other people’s art projects, taking a small percentage of each donation.  The company gave a generous share of its profits to women in the third world who wanted to start businesses.

***

56:  In the airport, I was surprised by how little it took to make me feel happy again.  I bought an Interview magazine which featured a French actress that I loved being interviewed by an American actress that I loved.  They were both starring in the same movie directed by a Polish director whose movies I also loved.

***

Synopsis:  Leah is living in Queens with a possessive husband she doesn’t love and a long list of unfulfilled ambitions, when she’s jolted from a thick ennui by a call from the past. Her beloved former boss and friend, Judy, has died in a car accident and left Leah her most prized possession and, as it turns out, the instrument of Judy’s death: a red sports car.

 

Judy was the mentor Leah never expected. She encouraged Leah’s dreams, analyzed her love life, and eased her into adulthood over long lunches away from the office. Facing the jarring disconnect between the life she expected and the one she is now actually living, Leah takes off for San Francisco to claim Judy’s car. In sprawling days defined by sex, sorrow, and unexpected delight, Leah revisits past lives and loves in search of a self she abandoned long ago. Piercing through Leah’s surreal haze is the enigmatic voice of Judy, as sharp as ever, providing wry commentary on Leah’s every move.

***

I am not quite sure what to think of this one.  What about you?  Does it grab you?  Make you want to keep reading?  I suspect that I might find something that resonates with me in the pages, specifically how one can be jolted out of reality by a tragedy.  A jolt that changes everything.

***

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.

BOOKISH FRIDAY: EXCERPTING “AT RISK”

BOOKISH FRIDAY LOGO

Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I enjoy sharing excerpts from books…and connecting with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What better way to spend a Friday!

Today’s featured book is one I recently downloaded; it is from an author I enjoy, but somehow, along the way, I missed this one.

At Risk, by Alice Hoffman, is an inspirational story of one family coming to terms with unspeakable tragedy and immeasurable love.

 

 

 

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Beginning:  There is a wasp in the kitchen.  Drawn by the smell of apricot jam, lazy from the morning’s heat, the wasp hovers above the children.  All through town a yellow light is cast over the green lawns and the rhododendrons.

*

56:  All morning, Ed has been telling himself it would be easier to tell Ivan alone, without Polly; a scientist could better accept the random path of a virus.  Now he knows he’s been kidding himself.  No one can accept the indiscriminate order of cruelty.

***

Blurb:  In a lovely old house near the coast of Massachusetts, the Farrells go through the routines of a typical August morning. Eight-year-old Charlie, a junior biologist and dinosaur expert, tries to collect another one of his insect specimens. His sister, Amanda, a talented gymnast who at eleven years old is already saving her money to try out for the Olympic team, prepares for her last meet of the summer. Ivan, their absent-minded father, is involved with his work as an astronomer. Out in the garden, Ivan’s wife, Polly, wonders how she can trick her children into eating more zucchini.

They are a family as unique and ordinary as any other, but their world will soon be shattered when Amanda is diagnosed with AIDS. In an instant, everything that gave their lives meaning is ripped away, and the intimacy that once came so naturally vanishes. Too overcome with grief to turn to each other, Ivan and Polly seek solace elsewhere. Charlie is abandoned by his best friend and, for long stretches at a time, forgotten by his parents. Amanda, who holds on to her dreams so tightly, must somehow find a way to let go.

Torn apart by the prospect of their loss, Polly, Ivan, and Charlie must find the courage to come back together again—for Amanda’s sake and for their own. At Risk is an exquisite book about true sorrow and even truer devotion.

***

I can’t wait to read this one.  Even though this is a story that we see less and less these days, it is hard not to recall those early days after the discovery of the virus.  And realizing that anything can come at us out of nowhere.

What do you think?

***

REVIEW: A SMALL INDISCRETION, BY JAN ELLISON

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Annie Black’s world has turned upside down.

Years ago, she was a young woman living in Europe, enjoying her freedom, but also taking risks. Two men–her boss, Malcolm Church, and another man who was a photographer friend, Patrick Ardghal–were part of that world, and sometimes, even in her new and near perfect world, Annie has thoughts about one of them. But before, when she was still young, Jonathan Gunnhaugsson, an American doctor she met in Ireland, became the love that kept her warm and safe. And dispelled most of her thoughts about the past. Together they raised three children: Robbie, now 21; Clara, 9; and Polly, 6.

In the present, before life unravels, there is a secret and an indiscretion that comes out after a mysterious photo arrives in the mail. Almost as if a chain of events have been unleashed, there is a reveal, then a trip to London, and then a series of tragic happenings: Annie’s shop is mysteriously flooded, and then Robbie, who has been living on his own, but is home for a visit, has a horrible accident. And the young woman named Emme, who worked in Annie’s shop, was the driver. What will happen to Robbie, and will the mess that now defines Annie’s life sort itself out? Will her husband Jonathan forgive her for how the secret has impacted all of their lives? What did Annie really know, and what was buried in her subconscious?

A Small Indiscretion: A Novel is narrated in Annie’s first person voice, but sweeps across time, from the past to the present, and she describes events in an open letter format to Robbie. As the events unfold in a non-linear fashion, it seems confusing, but then, at the end, and as one more piece of the puzzle is presented, we begin to see that the circling is like a logical progression, in a way, and that what we may have guessed earlier is now brought into sharper focus and in a surprising new way.

And by that time, I loved this story so much and what it tells us about love, mistakes, and forgiveness. By the end, I felt I knew and cared about each of these characters, especially Annie and Jonathan. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: FINDING JAKE, BY BRYAN REARDON

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When the unacceptable happens to the Connolly family, as well as to others attending the upper middle class suburban school, there would naturally be lots of soul-searching. But to seventeen-year-old Jake’s father, Simon, the stay-at-home dad, the self-examination is excruciating.

Simon is having an ordinary day when he first hears about the shooting at the school, but as hours pass, and Jake is nowhere to be found, and when everyone around him is treating Jake like a suspect, even though a shooter has already been found, events seemingly implode.

Our first person narrator is Simon, and we see his interior life unfolding, scene by scene, and then sweeping back and forth through time, from before Jake was born, to each of the time lines of his life by years. It is almost as if Simon is searching for answers, but it is unclear whether or not this time-searching is happening in retrospect, and whether or not Simon is trying to find justification for what he now fears about his son.

Rachel, the wife and mother, is a high-powered attorney, and she seems slightly removed from everything, as if she is not part of it all. Except when she criticizes and frowns at whatever her husband says and does. I did not like her at all, and also found Simon to be extremely self-indulgent in his quest to figure out what, if anything, he had done wrong.

The only character I liked was Laney, the younger sister, who was unfailingly loyal and believed in Jake’s innocence.

At the end, I was stunned by what happened…and then wondered why I didn’t feel more. Perhaps because the entire narrative felt as though the one telling the tale was standing above it all, without any real feelings except his own self-reproach. A strange story of a tragic situation, Finding Jake: A Novel was not an enjoyable read for me, and not just because of the sad events, but because none of the characters, except Laney, felt like real people going through agony. 3.5 stars.