REVIEW: THE UNWITTING, BY ELLEN FELDMAN

91wYirk+gzL._SL1500_Our story begins on November 22, 1963, when we meet Charlie and Nell Benjamin, poised for an ordinary day, living the writer’s life in Manhattan. But nothing about this day would be ordinary. Grief, both the country’s grief and her own, would overwhelm Nell for the foreseeable future.

We are then swept back in time, to college years, and to how Charlie and Nell first met. We are exposed to what happened to them during the McCarthy years, and how that era felt to writers and intellectuals with liberal leanings, and we can experience the dark and malevolent shadow of evil that lingered for years.

They were a couple for whom writing was a way of life and even though their choices tested the conventional roles of their time, the two of them, even after the birth of their daughter Abby, seemed to be coping. Their idealism kept them going, even when life was difficult.

But in the pivotal moments after Charlie’s mysterious death, bits and pieces of who he really was began to come to Nell from various sources, including a televised piece that suggested some unethical funding for the literary magazine they both loved. How did the secrets and lies change who they were and what they contributed? Did the secrets change who they had been, or is there another way to see it?

When Nell writes a piece about what she has learned, readers react in interesting ways. Some applaud her, while others suggest that Charlie was just doing right by his country. “Others railed against him for undermining the American system and warned that the road to tyranny was paved with means justified by ends.”

In the end, Nell comes to her own conclusions that allow for the imperfections in others, the ambiguity of ideals, and holding onto what remains. A person could focus on the transgressions and misdemeanors or zero in on the “glue that held you, no matter what.” The Unwitting: A Novel was a thoughtful journey through a time in our country and in the life of one family. Memorable. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: ABROAD, BY KATIE CROUCH

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They flocked to the old Etruscan city of Grifonia to enjoy a year away from their regular universities. But the learning was only part of the pull. They were also seeking the opportunity to cast aside their identities and constraints and reinvent themselves.

Tabitha Deacon, an Irish girl attending university in Nottingham, had many dreams about this very special experience. So when she was swept up into a “club” (the B-4) of posh girls with secrets and their own very unique agenda, she was unprepared for what happened next.

Blinded by the wonderful feeling of acceptance, a feeling of being special she gleaned from belonging to this popular group, Tabitha very carelessly ignored her own judgment, threatening her very safety.

What would then transpire to catapult Tabitha down a very slippery path? Who among the young people she had met, from the handsome Italians to the charming American, could she even trust? And at what risk would she continue in pursuit of her longings? How and why did her reckless behavior end badly? And what dark mysteries of the past added to the danger? How do the snippets about “mercy killings” add to the story?

Tabitha was incredibly innocent and gullible, in my opinion. While that made me feel protective of her, I was also frustrated by her actions, wanting to shout at her. To tell her to be careful about the friends she chose. She and her roommates didn’t even bother to lock their doors, even though they weren’t in the best neighborhood. And their clubbing every night and falling into bed with any man they met definitely added to the sense that no good end was in sight. The dark mood of the story and the foreshadowing of what was to come felt menacing throughout Abroad: A Novel, the primary reason I kept turning those pages.

And because we knew, from the beginning, that Tabitha’s plight was to be murdered, the story became even more compelling, especially since our first person narrator was Tabitha herself. After her death, she seemingly described how everything unfolded, from her perspective, and we saw more clearly how everything fit together. As much as I enjoyed most of the book, there were parts I could have done without, especially the dynamics between the annoying B-4 girls. 3.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE DEEPEST SECRET, BY CARLA BUCKLEY

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David and Eve met in college, and their love seemed like the beginning of a perfect life. They married, had a beautiful daughter Melissa, and then a handsome son Tyler.

But when Tyler was a year old, the Lattimores learned something about their son that would change their lives forever. He has a disease that renders him fatally sensitive to light, meaning that he can only go out at night. He must wear masks and other concealing garments…and he must beware of even car headlights. Most of his life is spent in his room, while his mother is hyper-vigilant about the dangers in his world. To afford their lifestyle and their medical needs, David works in Washington, D.C., and is away from their Ohio home for weeks at a time.

Unfortunately, however, now that Tyler is a teen, he sometimes rebels. And he wishes to discover the world that is outside his reach. So he becomes a nightly explorer, with his flashlight and his camera.

Constantly under stress, Eve makes a fatal error one night that turns everything about their world upside down. We spend the rest of The Deepest Secret: A Novel learning more about the interior world of each of the primary characters through alternating narratives: Eve, David, and even Tyler…and some of the secrets we discover turn what we thought we knew into a puzzling kaleidoscope of shifting and mysterious perspectives. Who are the people living on this cul-de-sac? What is going on behind the windows that are only partially covered? Who is the strange couple that seemingly hides from everyone? What can happen to change friendships and turn everyone against one another?

I felt very sorry for Tyler, but some of his behavior was eerily troubling…and Melissa, a typical teen, suddenly turned dark and sulky, and we have to wonder about what she is hiding, too. Alone and feeling neglected, David is tempted by his colleague Renee. I had to question some of Eve’s choices, but then again, she seemed to live in an impossible situation.

In the end, many of the answers came…some of which I could see coming…and others, not so much. An unforgettable story that reminds us that when life throws those curves, we sometimes make choices that are irreversible. How our lives play out afterwards can truly define us. Five stars.


HUMP DAY SERENDIPITY: WAITING EAGERLY FOR “NO BOOK BUT THE WORLD”

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Welcome to our bookish Wednesday event:  Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Breaking the Spine.

I was over at Library Thing searching for upcoming releases, and found this one by an author I have enjoyed in a previous book she wrote.  No Book but the World, by Leah Hager Cohen, is a “twisty and resonant tale about the price of secrets, the burden of family, the remnants of childhood we never leave behind.”

This twisty tale is coming to us on April 3, 2014.

 

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At the edge of a woods, on the grounds of a defunct “free school,” Ava and her brother, Fred, shared a dreamy and seemingly idyllic childhood—a world defined largely by their imaginations and each other’s presence. Everyone is aware of Fred’s oddness or vague impairment, but his parents’ fierce disapproval of labels keeps him free of evaluation or intervention, and constantly at Ava’s side.

Decades later, then, when Ava learns that her brother is being held in a county jail for a shocking crime, she is frantic to piece together what actually happened. A boy is dead. But could Fred really have done what he is accused of? As she is drawn deeper into the details of the crime, Ava becomes obsessed with learning the truth, convinced that she and she alone will be able to reach her brother and explain him—and his innocence—to the world.

Leah Hager Cohen brings her trademark intelligence to a psychologically gripping, richly ambiguous story that suggests we may ultimately understand one another best not with facts alone, but through our imaginations.

***

I am eager to see where this journey takes us, as readers.  Come on by and share your own eagerly anticipated books.

 

REVIEW: INVISIBLE, BY CARLA BUCKLEY

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While Dana Carlson finished setting up the building for its implosion, her mind was focused totally on the job. She felt that surge of control…something she needs in her life. In the demolition business, one must be in control.

So when the calls start coming from “private caller,” she ignores them. Until finally, when the job is done, she picks up. And the voice of her teenage niece Peyton sweeps her back in time, sixteen years before, to a time and place she escaped. Running from her past and her secrets.

But Peyton is telling Dana that her sister Julie is very sick and needs a kidney transplant. So, almost on auto pilot, Dana agrees to go back to Black Bear, Minnesota. But will she be able to face what is there?

Back in Black Bear, she is stunned by what she finds. She is too late, and Julie is dead. And what Dana soon discovers is that many people in Black Bear are suddenly dying of kidney disease, in numbers too large to be random. What is happening?

As she begins to investigate, she is confronted by the rage of the community. By those who see her as an intruder…a threat to their livelihood. Is the large plant in town causing the problems?

What will Dana uncover, and who will be on her side? Will anyone help her or will everyone stand in her way? And which of Dana’s secrets will come to light?

Narrated alternately by Dana and Peyton, we come to see beneath their surfaces as the story unfolds, and I came to care deeply for each of them.

Another unputdownable book from Carla Buckley, Invisible: A Novel (Random House Reader’s Circle) is a reminder of what is hidden beneath the surface: from nano particles to deeply held secrets. And how many will fight desperately to keep things hidden. Five stars.

SERENDIPITOUS FRIDAYS: BOOK BEGINNINGS & THE FRIDAY 56 — TWO SISTERS

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Welcome to some bookish fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we 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!

If you have been wanting to participate, but haven’t yet tried, now is the time!

What better way to spend a Friday?

Today’s featured book is an ARC I’ve received from Amazon Vine.  Two Sisters, by Mary Hogan, is a story about one family, two sisters, and a lifetime of secrets….

 

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Beginning:  Muriel unfolded the old bath towel and flung it open with a snap of her wrists.  Gently, it floated over her duvet like a jellyfish, the frayed ends dangling in a tentacled kind of way.

***

56:  While Owen searched for the ideal place to stop, kill the engine, then douse Madalyn’s dreams of their future together, Le Chez came into view.  People were laughing inside, bathed in the flattering light of disposable income.

***

Amazon Blurb:  Mary Hogan’s powerful and poignant debut novel about two sisters—opposites in every way—plus their mother and the secrets and lies that define them all.

One family, two sisters, a lifetime of secrets . . .

The third child in a family that wanted only two, Muriel Sullivant has always been an outsider. Short, dark-haired and round, she worships her beautiful blonde sister, Pia, and envies the close bond she shares with their mother, Lidia. Growing up in their shadow, Muriel believes that if she keeps all their secrets—and she knows plenty, outsiders always do—they will love her, too.

But that was a long time ago. Now an adult, Muriel has accepted the disappointments in her life. With her fourth-floor walk-up apartment and entry-level New York City job, she never will measure up to Pia and her wealthy husband, their daughter, and their suburban Connecticut dream home. Muriel would like nothing better than to avoid her judgmental family altogether. One thing she does quite well.

Until the day Pia shows up to visit and share devastating news that Muriel knows she cannot tell—a secret that will force her to come to terms with the past and help her see her life and her family in unexpected new ways.

***

I love books about family…especially the kind with secrets.  What are you sharing today?

SERENDIPITOUS TUESDAYS: INTROS/TEASERS – THE SILVER BOAT

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by Should Be Reading.

Today’s featured book is The Silver Boat, by Luanne Rice.

 

 

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Intro:  Dar McCarthy sat on the granite step of her mother’s rambling, gray-shingled house, listening to surf break beyond the pond.  There had been a gale last night, driving in wild ocean waves, and through the salt pond’s wide bight she could see gray-green seawater tower and crash, the foam bright white in the first morning light.

Last night’s high wind had blown out all the clouds, and the dawn sky was turning what Delia used to call “happy blue.”  The sun hadn’t yet melted the frost, which glimmered on the old stone walls and spiky brown grass, the lilac branches and the stone Buddha in the herb garden.  Her mother’s ancient cats skulked home from a night of hiding under the barn, looking tufty and tiny and old.

***

Teaser:  Loneliness for him made Rory feel desperate, as if she’d be alone forever.  It was the worst feeling, as if she were hollow, as if she didn’t even exist without someone to love her.  (p. 58)

***

Amazon Blurb:  Three far-flung sisters have come home to Martha’s Vineyard one last time. Their mother’s beach house is the only place any of them ever found true happiness, and they need to begin the difficult process of letting go. Memories of their grandmother, mother, and their Irish father rise up and expose the fine cracks in their family myth — especially when a cache of old letters reveals enough truth to send them back to their ancestral homeland.

***

I love the setting of this one, along with a story about sisters, secrets, and loss.  Would you keep reading?

 

SERENDIPTIOUS FRIDAYS: BOOK BEGINNINGS & THE FRIDAY 56 — LIE STILL — SEPT. 13

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Welcome to some bookish fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we 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!

If you have been wanting to participate, but haven’t yet tried, now is the time!

What better way to spend a Friday?

Today’s featured book is an ARC in which I am deeply engrossed.  I have developed a crick in my neck from curling up and reading this one on and off throughout the day.  I only ever took breaks to watch a couple of TV shows.

The book is very suspenseful with lots of secrets revealing themselves slowly.  Lie Still, by Julia Heaberlin, starts out with a scene of violence that informs a lot of the story ahead.

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Beginning:  For me, the rape is a permanent fixture on the clock, like midnight.

A point of reference.

I was nineteen years and four days old.

***

56:  “There is blood in my house.”  Lucinda’s lisp was a little hard to understand, but the word blood was unmistakable.  She popped the slip of paper in her mouth and began to chew like a bubble gum addict on cocaine.

***

Amazon Blurb:  In the tradition of Lisa Unger’s Beautiful Lies and Nancy Pickard’s The Scent of Rain and Lightning comes a twisting, riveting novel of shifting trust and shattered lives. Lie Still delves deep into the heart of an opulent Southern town, where gossip is currency and secrets kill.

When Emily Page and her husband move from Manhattan to the wealthy enclave of Clairmont, Texas, she hopes she can finally escape her haunted past—and outrun the nameless stalker who has been taunting her for years. Pregnant with her first child, Emily just wants to start over. But as she is drawn into a nest of secretive Texas women—and into the unnerving company of their queen, Caroline Warwick—Emily finds that acceptance is a very dangerous game.

It isn’t long before Caroline mysteriously disappears and Emily is facing a rash of anonymous threats. Are they linked to the missing Caroline? Or to Emily’s terrifying encounter in college, years earlier? As the dark truth about Caroline emerges, Emily realizes that some secrets are impossible to hide—and that whoever came for Caroline is now coming for her.

***

As evening approaches, I want to keep reading, because I don’t want to put this book down.  But I’m afraid to read this in the dark…lol.  And I’m afraid of women like these….

What are you sharing?

SECRETS OF THE PAST — A REVIEW

15818324Responding to a summons from a dying man, Sophie Shepard arrives in Clearfield, VA, after a few postponements…only to discover that Arthur Cubeck has already died.

Before she has a chance to return home again, she is contacted by a lawyer, requesting her presence at the reading of Mr. Cubeck’s will. Apparently there has been a bequest left to her.

Sophie has had a premonition that the unusual request from Mr. Cubeck must have something to do with her birth mother, but in the days that follow, everything becomes murkier and nothing is clear at all.

Meanwhile, Sophie enjoys connecting with some of the townsfolk, like the proprietor of the B & B, a chatty woman named Jesse, and the handsome doctor named Drew McCarren. These connections somehow make staying on for a bit more pleasant.

But suddenly everything turns dark and mysterious, and tragic events are unfolding. And all of it seems to point in her direction. Something About Sophie: A Novel (P.S.) is a mystery, a story about small town life, and secrets that have been hidden for decades, but now clamor to be told.

There were parts of the tale that were intriguing, fun, and even suspenseful. In fact, although I had most of the story figured out before the end, there were a few surprises. Because of the unexpected moments, I am awarding the story 3.5 stars.

SECRETS, MYSTERY, & SERENDIPITY — A REVIEW

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For many years before she landed on Padre Island, Summer Newcombe lived several lives and numerous identities as part of the Witness Protection Program. But finding herself in this particular restaurant when a fire broke out that threatened lives and almost took her own could have been a fluke.

But Summer doesn’t really believe in accidents…or coincidences.

However, meeting the hunky firefighter who rescues her after she has risked her life for others is just another in a series of moments that will change her mind about serendipity.

Gabe Duran turns out to be the son of Summer’s landlord….and the serendipitous moments just keep happening.

How does the wise old woman named Maxie, who lives in the adjacent condo, figure into the mysterious connections adding up to create a whole new kind of life? Are they part of her mysterious past, or is something else going on?

But not all things coming together in this new place are good things. What is driving the perverted stalker who lives nearby? How will his plot to steal secrets about a life-changing invention somehow connect him to Summer? And who is the man who keeps showing up to supposedly “help” Summer? What is his agenda?

In Name Only is a story about secrets, mysterious mobsters, and how life can sometimes dish up more surprises than anticipated. Romantic moments fit themselves into this scenario as if they are unexpected treats. Some of the surprises toward the end were almost too perfect, but I did enjoy them. Who knew what unexpected connections might form, and seemingly out of nowhere? An enjoyable, somewhat predictable, four star read.