REVIEW: SECOND LIFE, BY S. J. WATSON

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When Julia Plummer attends an exhibit that will include a photograph she did years before, in Berlin, she is anxious. Her mind traipses back to that time and to the darkness that followed.

Memories of the past are still with her when she goes home to discover police cars. Fearful, she rushes in, worried about Connor, fourteen, her younger sister Kate’s son that she has been raising since infancy, but instead, she learns that Kate has been murdered in Paris. Julia’s husband Hugh, a surgeon, is there for her, just as he was in the dark days following what happened to her in Berlin. But nothing seems to alleviate the darkness that descends in the aftermath of Kate’s murder, and she becomes obsessed with finding out who killed her sister.

As she connects to Kate’s housemate Anna, she learns about her sister’s risky behavior. How she met up with online connections, and how they might have led to her murder.

Thinking she can learn more about Kate’s other life, Julia sets up her own profile, pretending to be someone else, hoping to find out more about her sister’s death.

How does Julia’s foray into the world of Internet sex fantasies become a kind of addiction? Why can’t she stop, once she starts? Why does she relent and start meeting one of the men? And how will one particular connection she makes turn into something malevolent and unexpected? Something that could ruin her family and expose them all to danger?

Secrets, betrayals, and a darkness from the hidden past will keep coming at her, as she races to save her son from certain danger.

The story is brought to us in the first person present tense voice of Julia, granting an immediacy to the action, as well as a glimpse of her thought processes throughout. The writing was engaging, but it was hard to root for Julia when she kept ignoring all the danger signs. Her foolish choices made me want to shout at her, warning her of how nothing good could come of this. Even Hugh was hard to like, as he seemed detached and not very forthcoming with information, especially since some of what he knew could have prevented tragedy.

I wanted to love Second Life: A Novel, and I certainly couldn’t put it down. The suspense accelerated as the book progressed, but I also saw the danger ahead not too long after Julia connected with the man she met online. And while I didn’t predict or expect the odd twists at the end, I knew that I was not going to like what would inevitably happen. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: YOU CAN TRUST ME, BY SOPHIE MCKENZIE

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When Livy and Will Jackson attend a work-related party in Exeter one evening, Livy is anxious. She is reminded of six years previously, when Will cheated on her with a colleague named Catrina, who will probably be at this party.

So her anxiety intensifies, so much so that she ignores a text from her best friend Julia, pleading with her to call right away, that it is important.

She tries later, but doesn’t reach Julia. So when she and the kids, Hannah, 12, and Zack, 7, arrive the next day for their scheduled lunch, she is stunned and grief-stricken to discover Julia’s dead body. The whole thing reminds Livy of her sister Kara’s death years before. The unsolved murder has defined her and Julia’s lives for years since.

Why is everyone so eager to believe that Julia committed suicide? The note on the computer could have been planted, and nothing about suicide matches what Livy knows about her friend.

In the next few weeks, Livy connects with Julia’s boyfriend Damian Burton, and together they start following clues they hope will answer their questions, since both of them believe that Julia was murdered.

Why do the clues lead them to an agency called Honey Hearts, and a woman named Shannon? What, if anything, does Shannon know, and why has she disappeared?

Meanwhile, someone has told Livy that Will is cheating again, and as an additional stressor, Hannah is acting out in very obnoxious ways. How could Livy’s life have gone from bad to worse, and who can she believe?

You Can Trust Me: A Novel is alternately narrated in Livy’s voice and the voice of the unknown man, whose confessions ratchet him up to the level of a crazed serial killer. He sounds like someone they all know and possibly trust, so there are numerous red herrings along the way, making the reader suspect almost everyone. Could the killer be Julia’s weird twin Robbie? Or perhaps Will himself is the killer, since a damning item is discovered in his toolbox? Or maybe the killer is someone that nobody would suspect. I couldn’t wait to find out.

The settings in the English countryside, as well as the appealing beach communities near London, brought the reader into the world of the characters. I could visualize this story as a movie, one that would definitely keep me riveted. And, in the end, when the most unlikely of all persons turned out to be truly evil, I could not help but be amazed. Definitely a 5 star read for me.

SERENDIPITOUS FRIDAYS: BOOK BEGINNINGS/FRIDAY 56 – “WIFE-IN-LAW”

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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 came right off my TBR pile, as I slowly work my way through it.  Wife-in-Law, by Haywood Smith, looks like a delightful read to me.  I have enjoyed several books by this author.

 

 

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Beginning:  Somebody once asked me how I pick my friends, and I just laughed, because God usually does the picking for me, and believe me, He has a wicked sense of humor.  So when it came to my best friend in the world, never in a million years would I have chosen Kat Ellis.  And never in a trillion years would I have ever imagined that we’d both end up married to the same man—or that one of us would kill him.

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56:  Perversely, I wondered if my presence would be there with them when they finally did get down and dirty.

An evil smile overtook me as I wondered if Kat liked it quick, with no foreplay.

***

Blurb:  Neighbors Betsy Callison and Kat Ellis were oil and water when they met thirty-five years ago.  Betsy was a prim, neat freak, Republican wife, and Kat was a wild, irreverent, hippie Democrat. But they soon discover common ground that creates a bond that lasts for decades. Until Betsy’s husband leaves her for his secretary, then comes sniffing back around two years later and convinces newly widowed Kat to marry him! Not that Betsy wants him back, but it’s hard to move on when the newlyweds are flaunting their love right across the street. But there’s trouble brewing in Paradise, and no one knows philandering Greg better than his ex-wife Betsy. Can Betsy get involved in her best friend’s marriage–even if it means helping her wife-in-law figure out the same man she shared a bed with for thirty years? Told with Haywood’s Smith inimitable southern voice, WIFE-IN-LAW provides loads of laughter, insight, and plenty of heart.

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Doesn’t this sound like fun?  I can’t wait….

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REVIEW: ONE PLUS ONE, BY JOJO MOYES

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Ed Nicholls finds himself in quite a pickle. He was just trying to break it off with an annoying and somewhat clingy girlfriend when he spouted off about a new software launch in his company. He certainly had no idea that he would live to regret it.

To say that Ed is clueless at times would be an understatement.

Meanwhile, Jess Thomas, a single mother with a daughter and a stepson to raise, is struggling and trying to make it against all the odds stacked against them. On the plus side, her daughter Tanzie is a maths genius; but the downside: she could benefit from a private school. Jess doesn’t have the money, since she cleans rental units at a resort, and works at a nearby pub in the evenings. A Maths Olympiad looks like a possible answer, as the prize money could turn things around. But they have no way to get there–it’s in Aberdeen, Scotland, and they are in England–so as a last resort, she decides to drive the old Rolls Royce that has not been driven in ages.

Meeting up with Ed was a side effect of her two jobs, but when he stops on the highway to help out when the police have pulled her over, neither of them could have imagined what would happen next. He is, after all, a stranger.

The road trip could not have been more uncomfortable, but along the way, something changes. And suddenly each of them has something to offer the other, and what might seem like a most unlikely pairing seems almost possible. But then something happens that tears them apart.

Will they manage to sort out their problems on their own? Can they mend the differences between them?

I thoroughly enjoyed One Plus One: A Novel, a story that reminded me of real people trying to connect with one another, despite their flaws and their mistakes. The characters were wonderful, especially Tanzie and Nicky, and the dialogue between them all on their amazing road trip made me smile, even the parts that revealed their quirky aspects, and most definitely when their flaws were most apparent. The story was also one with important themes of morality, bullying, societal differences, and all the messy details of family life. A definite 5 star read; another wonderful book from this author.

REVIEW: VICTIMS, BY JONATHAN KELLERMAN

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When Detective Milo Sturgis calls Alex Delaware in to consult on a new murder, his tone suggests that something out of the ordinary has happened.

The victim, Vita Berlin, was killed by a perpetrator who snapped her neck. But then, after death, her innards were showcased around her neck, like a necklace.

As the investigation begins, several strange aspects puzzle them, but one thing is clear. The victim was disliked by almost everyone. A lawsuit she filed and won leads Milo and Alex, and the others, to an insurance company where she had worked, the source of her complaint of harassment.

Soon another victim is discovered, with the same MO…but he was someone everyone loved. What, if anything, connects the victims, and how will the detectives solve this bizarre case?

When observers identify someone hanging around the scenes, a strange man wearing a shearling coat that seemed out of place for the warm weather, a mental health diagnosis seems likely. Will Alex’s own past somehow insert itself into the mix, leading them to a place where he was an intern?

What I love most about the Alex Delaware series is watching Alex and Milo go through their paces, logically eliminating suspects and connections until they seemingly land serendipitously at the very place that will reveal important pieces of the puzzle. I also enjoy the glimpses of their personal lives, that lend a balance and distract the reader from the gruesome moments.

Six victims in all have only the two things in common: a broken neck and the bizarre necklace of intestines. And as more and more people report the shearling coat man sighting, there is a gradual movement toward one place where all paths converge.

Victims (Alex Delaware) was a very satisfying page-turner that came together very nicely at the end, but the conclusion also showed the sadness left behind, as Alex struggles to resume a normal life. 5.0 stars.

SERENDIPITOUS SATURDAYS: CLEARING & CHANGING

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Good morning, and welcome to my Serendipitous Saturday Snapshot post.  Meet the other participants over at West Metro Mommy Reads.

As some of you know, I’ve been doing a lot of purging lately.  Books, mostly…and this week, I also cleared out some old VHS tapes from a shelf in my office and rearranged the ones I wanted to keep—you know, the ones I can’t find a DVD for—and here’s what that shelf looks like now.  The books that were on the bottom shelf are now in the library collection box in the garage.  And now the tapes live there.

 

 

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An old wicker shelf that held those tapes…now, also gone, to find a new use elsewhere, below; tucked between a couple of cabinets, it holds overflow books (mainly a few chunksters) and odds and ends:

 

 

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I even took away more of the books on the filing cabinet in my book nook, below right; there is now only one row of books there, and they are my signed copies of books; everything else…to the library box:

 

 

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My new print book mountain is also smaller, as I slowly read them…and stop buying so many.  Yes, I still download to Sparky, but those books don’t take up the same kind of space.

 

 

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Over in the adjacent village where my daughter took over my youngest son’s house, she has done a different kind of purging.  The garage and yard needed clearing, and here’s what she accomplished, with the help of a friend; chopping up and discarding an old hot tub:

 

 

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And finally, to the curb; the city periodically collects whatever residents put out there:

 

 

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Meanwhile, in the extreme north part of our state, my son and his wife have “escaped” to a different kind of life here:

 

 

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With this luxurious yard surrounding them:

 

 

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We all make different choices, and sometimes the things we purge or discard tell us a little about what we value, while what remains could be something simpler…or, at least, tidier.

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What are you spotlighting today?  I hope you’ll stop by and share.

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REVIEW: AFTER BIRTH, BY ELISA ALBERT

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Ari and Paul are a couple with a new baby, and even though Ari is supposedly working on her dissertation, much of her time is spent with the endless tasks of child care.

In her first person voice, we hear every thought and feeling she has, apparently, and in the form of a very in-your-face rant. Foul-mouthed and irreverent, she is hard to like. But her tough façade seemingly covers the loneliness and isolation she feels.

Her tendency to go on and on, somewhat obsessively, about her C-section and how the blissful experience she had expected was stolen from her, was very off-putting. She had had many experiences in her younger years that come to the forefront when she is going on and on about her many terrible experiences.

Meeting another young mother, Mina Morris, who was in her ninth month when they first encountered one another, was a somewhat positive experience for her. She starts to open up and reach out, even as she also offers some of her own experiences to the other mother.

After Birth spotlights the dark side of birth and parenting, and it is easy to see that Ari must be suffering from postpartum depression…or she is definitely a “glass half empty” person. And while I did empathize with the emotions, the way she chose to wallow in them made her a character I wanted to get away from…and quickly. 3 stars.