REVIEW: THE LIES WE TOLD, BY CAMILLA WAY

 

A daughter
Beth has always known there was something strange about her daughter, Hannah. The lack of emotion, the disturbing behavior, the apparent delight in hurting others…Sometimes Beth is scared of her and what she could be capable of.

A son
Luke comes from the perfect family, with the perfect parents. But one day, he disappears without a trace, and his girlfriend, Clara, is desperate to discover what has happened to him.

A life built on lies
As Clara digs into the past, she realizes that no family is truly perfect, and uncovers a link between Luke’s long-lost sister and a strange girl named Hannah. Now Luke’s life is in danger because of the lies once told and the secrets once kept. Can Clara find him before it’s too late?

My Thoughts: In the beginning pages of The Lies We Told, we are introduced to two families: Doug, Beth, and their daughter Hannah, living in Cambridgeshire, in 1986; and Luke and Clara, young adults living in London in 2017. Luke’s parents, Oliver and Rose Lawson, have become like a second family to Clara.

Our story takes us back and forth, and we watch Hannah’s life grow more troubling with each year that passes. Her horrific and sociopathic behavior gets more dangerous with time. The behavior, and a dark secret dating back to Hannah’s infancy, keeps this family on tenterhooks.

Meanwhile, in contemporary London, Clara’s world is upended when Luke goes missing. Before he was “taken,” there were e-mails and strange events. Luke, obviously, had a stalker.

Seeing the connections slowly come together for these characters kept me glued to the book. I had figured out that there were very dark links between them all, but just how deep the ties went and how twisted they were would not be revealed until close to the end.

Like dropping bread crumbs, some of the characters lead us along their pathways, while the others try to follow, hoping to learn more about each of them: their lives, their lies, and their secrets. How will each of the characters put everything together? Will they find Luke? What will happen between them all when the sordid secrets are finally out in the open?

Hannah was a frightening character, but Luke was no saint. His flaws contributed to his vulnerability, and his family’s secrets and lies made him the perfect target. I kept turning pages rapidly as the layered and captivating story reached its denouement. 5 stars.


***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.
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REVIEW: THE DREAM DAUGHTER, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

When Carly Sears, a young woman widowed by the Vietnam War, receives the news that her unborn baby girl has a heart defect, she is devastated. It is 1970, and she is told that nothing can be done to help her child. But her brother-in-law, a physicist with a mysterious past, tells her that perhaps there is a way to save her baby. What he suggests is something that will shatter every preconceived notion that Carly has. Something that will require a kind of strength and courage she never knew existed. Something that will mean an unimaginable leap of faith on Carly’s part.

And all for the love of her unborn child.

The Dream Daughter is a rich, genre-spanning, breathtaking novel about one mother’s quest to save her child, unite her family, and believe in the unbelievable. Diane Chamberlain pushes the boundaries of faith and science to deliver a novel that you will never forget.

 

My Thoughts: While I have not read many books involving time travel, Diane Chamberlain’s books always capture me, so The Dream Daughter was definitely one for me.

Having lived in the 1970s, during and after the Vietnam War, I could relate to Carly and her issues, especially her concern about her brother-in-law Hunter’s idea to “send her” to 2001.

In 2001, the surgery for her child was a success, but several setbacks afterwards made it impossible for Carly to travel back to 1970 with her daughter. So she went alone.

From this point on, everything fell apart and turned out completely wrong for Carly. Searching for her daughter and trying to make up for the errors that followed kept me intrigued until the very end.

Some strange and unexpected events transpired, and for those who find the idea of time travel impossible to wrap their heads around, everything might seem unlikely. How did the September 11, 2001 date complicate events for Carly and her daughter? Would she find a way to fill in the years that eluded her?

By this point, I was held captive by each page, wondering how or if Carly and her dream daughter would connect again. An intense story that will keep me pondering the events. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE OTHER WOMAN, BY SANDIE JONES

 

HE LOVES YOU: Adam adores Emily. Emily thinks Adam’s perfect, the man she thought she’d never meet.

BUT SHE LOVES YOU NOT: Lurking in the shadows is a rival, a woman who shares a deep bond with the man she loves.

AND SHE’LL STOP AT NOTHING: Emily chose Adam, but she didn’t choose his mother Pammie.

There’s nothing a mother wouldn’t do for her son, and now Emily is about to find out just how far Pammie will go to get what she wants: Emily gone forever.

My Thoughts: The Other Woman was a book that captured my interest right away, as I watched the unfolding power struggle between our narrator, Emily, and Pammie, the mother of her fiancé. To others, Pammie was sweet, so Emily could find no allies in her quest to get the upper hand.

Her own mother colluded with Pammie in setting up the “hen do,” when an unexpected and unwelcome guest appeared. But Emily hadn’t shared her thoughts and feelings about Pammie with her mother, not wanting her to worry. What? That was one of her biggest mistakes.

Then there was Adam, almost as annoying as Pammie, always running to his mother’s side and never supporting Emily as she tried to stay afloat.

James, Adam’s brother, seemed supportive, but then he made the moves on her.

What was happening in this Twilight Zone of a family? What has Emily discovered about her predecessor, who died suddenly one day? What are the secrets behind this tragedy?

As I kept turning pages, I wanted Emily to stand up and say “no more!” But she didn’t. She kept forgiving and offering second, third chances…until the final twist had me stunned and saying “no way!”

I had whiplash by then, but something felt wrong and too easy about this ending. After expecting a whole different kind of denouement, I felt a little…let down. It seemed almost unbelievable, which dropped this book down to 3.5 stars for me.

***

REVIEW: LIES, BY T. M. LOGAN

 

Six days ago, Joe Lynch was a happily married man, a devoted father, and a respected teacher living in a well-to-do London suburb. But that was before he spotted his wife’s car entering a hotel parking garage. Before he saw her in a heated argument with her best friend’s husband. Before Joe confronted the other man in an altercation where he left him for dead, bleeding and unconscious.

Now, Joe’s life is unraveling. His wife has lied to him. Her deception has put their entire family in jeopardy. The man she met at the hotel has vanished. And as the police investigate his disappearance, suspicion falls on Joe.

Unable to trust the woman he loves, Joe finds himself at the mercy of her revelations and deceits, unsure of who or what to believe. All he knows is that her actions have brought someone dangerous into their lives—someone obsessed with her and determined to tear Joe’s world apart.

What if your whole life was based on LIES?

My Thoughts: I was immediately hooked on Lies, as the pages quickly turned and more and more duplicity was revealed.

Joe’s first person narrative carried us along, our feelings heightened with each lie revealed, and as we followed each step he took, we were unsure of who the enemies would turn out to be, and whose life would be endangered next.

Joe and Mel’s son William, a sweet four-year-old who was precocious and spoke up with his thoughts and needs, was such a treat, but his vulnerability intensified my hope that Joe would find the answers he sought.

From the beginning, I distrusted Mel. Initially, she seemed loving, but as she began to share the lies, a bit at a time, the tidbits handed out in pieces, it was easy to see that she had a lot more hidden. Her façade was intact, though, making it hard to penetrate it in the quest for full disclosure.

What is the end game for the liars? Is Beth’s husband Ben the evil perpetrator, or is there more to the story? Why are the police so quickly targeting Joe? Who has set up the perfect trap, and why?

Even though I didn’t believe the stories Mel was telling, I wasn’t prepared for what came out in the stunning conclusion. Intense and horrifying, I couldn’t breathe while the events played out.


***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: ALL YOUR PERFECTS, BY COLLEEN HOOVER

 

Quinn and Graham’s perfect love is threatened by their imperfect marriage. The memories, mistakes, and secrets that they have built up over the years are now tearing them apart. The one thing that could save them might also be the very thing that pushes their marriage beyond the point of repair.

All Your Perfects is a profound novel about a damaged couple whose potential future hinges on promises made in the past. This is a heartbreaking page-turner that asks: Can a resounding love with a perfect beginning survive a lifetime between two imperfect people?

My Thoughts: They met on what could have been the worst day of their lives. In a hallway outside an apartment that would reveal a betrayal for each of them. But they turned those moments into a beginning. Of something more. Something better.

Quinn and Graham did connect after that horrible day, and what started in those moments would turn into something wonderful. And sad. Could they rise about the imperfections? Would all that was perfect between them lose its luster as they forgot the good they still could have?

I enjoyed how All Your Perfects flipped back and forth between “then” and “now,” and how a traumatic event that would definitely bring an end to one of their biggest dreams could be a turning point. Something that would take them back to the beginning and to a special box that contained treasures from times before. I came to care about these characters and how they managed to change the course of their relationship. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: NOT HER DAUGHTER, BY REA FREY

 

Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.
Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.

Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.

Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?

Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.

Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.

As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?

 

My Thoughts: As I plunged into the moral dilemmas of Not Her Daughter, I found myself rooting for Sarah, who had chosen to take Emma away from an abusive home. I could feel the anxiety of the child, afraid of her mother, and I also felt for Sarah, who knew that traditional protective services in a broken system might not be able to keep the child safe.

But then again, should someone take a child to protect her, with no legal authority to do so? If caring people decided to take matters into their own hands, there would be no safeguards at all for a child. Who could say that the child is truly protected just because a kindly stranger offers her own brand of safekeeping? What, if any, opportunity might there be for the abusive parent, in this case, Amy Townsend, to mend her ways and try again?

The story was written in such a way that, with Sarah’s first person voice, we can feel how much she wants to take care of the child she has seen abused on several occasions. And in other sections of the book, we are offered a look into Amy’s perspective and slowly come to acknowledge that the bonds between Amy and Emma are broken…possibly irretrievably. What is the best course of action for Emma…and also for Amy and Sarah?

I enjoyed following Sarah as she kept ahead of those searching for the child, giving up her own home and career to protect Emma. Sometimes it felt like a grand adventure. But I didn’t feel she had made the best choices. In the end, there seemed to be a satisfactory solution, but it was unrealistic, in my opinion. 4 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE SEASON OF SILVER LININGS, BY CHRISTINE NOLFI

 

When Ohio pastry chef Jada Brooks and her two best friends restored the glorious Wayfair Inn, it was a boon to Sweet Lake—and to their own lives. Now Linnie and Cat are focused on private matters: one engaged, the other swept up in newlywed bliss. Jada has also begun looking to the future by dating widower Philip Kettering and forging a sudden, sweet bond with his six-year-old daughter.

But the past isn’t finished with Jada. When a curious guest checks into the Wayfair, her delving questions stir Jada’s guilt about the heartbreaking events that scarred the town seven years ago. The risks Jada must take by revealing the truth will test every assumption she’s made about the meaning of family and the magic of enduring love.

 

My Thoughts: Set in Sweet Lake, Ohio, The Season of Silver Linings is the third outing for this series about the Wayfair Inn, and the friends whose lives connect there.

April will be Linnie’s wedding to Daniel Kettering, and her best friends Jada and Cat are helping out with preparations, while handling most of the business of the inn.

This story primarily features Jada and her budding relationship with Philip Kettering, whose adorable daughter Fancy has captured her heart. Jada and Philip have known each other for several years, but only recently has their friendship started to grow and change. Fancy is at the heart of these changes.

The Sweet Lake Sirens, a group of older, somewhat eccentric women, are a constant presence in the inn and the town, and just when you think they are involved elsewhere, they pop up, like busy bees you would like to swat. But then they do something sweet and kind, and you are reminded of how much you really love them.

An unusual guest who arrives at a very hectic time turns out to have secrets from the past…and many questions for Jada. Can Jada uncover the woman’s secret agenda? When she realizes how her own past connects to the guest’s, she will have a dilemma. What will she do?

A story that takes us into the dark past and a deep sadness, it also reveals the many layers of those who live and work in Sweet Lake. Happiness might lie at the end of this journey…but what will need to happen first? A five star read.

***

REVIEW: THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY, BY RUTH WARE

 

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

My Thoughts: Hal is the kind of character that I root for, with her orphan status and her plucky efforts to find her way in the world despite her disadvantages. But would it be so wrong to finally have a little money of her own? Even if collecting on this inheritance turns out to feel like a con?

The Death of Mrs. Westaway reeled me in, from the early narrative of someone writing in a diary in 1994 to Hal’s present day search for the truth of her heritage. She has never known the identity of her father, and now she is wondering just what, if anything, connects her to the Westaways, other than their shared surname.

She feels a sense of familiarity about Trepassen House, the somewhat creepy mansion in Cornwall, with magpies hovering overhead and a stern and sinister housekeeper within. Its Gothic like aura frightens her, but also tugs at her curiosity and sense of a deeper connection. The grown sons of Mrs. Hester Westaway are imposing, from Harding, the eldest; to Abel, next in line; and then there is Ezra the youngest. His charm is noticeable from the beginning, but is there something else about him that is part of a deeper secret?

What is the story of Maud, the missing daughter? How did the friendship between cousins Maggie and Maud lead to the biggest secret of their lives? What role did Tarot cards play in their lives, and what did they learn from them?

What events had set in motion the dark plan that would bring Hal to Trepassen hoping for an inheritance, and where a twenty-year secret would be revealed? A 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: CASTAWAY COTTAGE, BY JOANNE DEMAIO

 

Every cottage tells a story. It’s a saying Jason Barlow returns to as an architect designing New England beach homes. The latest cottage story he hopes to tell rises from the Stony Point sand: the last-standing cottage on the beach. It’s the sole survivor–something Jason can relate to–as surrounding cottages washed out to sea in long-ago hurricanes.

The owners aren’t budging, though, keeping Jason’s proposed renovation at bay. But with some help from the beach friends, the tide turns for Jason’s new venture. Problem is, that weathered cottage on the beach? It holds secrets darker than its gray sea worn shingles. And secrets don’t stay buried in this little Connecticut beach town; they wash ashore or get dug up from the sand.

My Thoughts: Reuniting the characters of Stony Point seemed to promise great events. Answers that were left over from our last outing kept us turning pages, even as we enjoyed gathering in the gorgeous setting.

Would Jason Barlow persuade the owners of the last cottage on the beach to sign up for his first renovation show? How does Jason’s brother Neil and his journals help persuade Mitch Fenwick and his daughter Carol to sign on? Who is the mysterious boy called Sailor, and how does his story add to the poignant memories in Stony Point?

When Kyle Bradford discovers something strange about his and Lauren’s marriage certificate, how does he react? Will the two of them find a reason to celebrate their ten years together?

Throughout Castaway Cottage, snippets of the past are revealed in little stories, and as each one unfolds, we learn a little bit more about the town and its history.

But in the end, everything is up in the air as a misstep changes all of their plans. We are left hanging, wondering if they all went wrong when they turned their back on the sea. Another 5 star read that left numerous questions to ponder.

***

REVIEW: MY (NOT SO) PERFECT LIFE, BY SOPHIE KINSELLA

 

Everywhere Katie Brenner looks, someone else is living the life she longs for, particularly her boss, Demeter Farlowe. Demeter is brilliant and creative, lives with her perfect family in a posh townhouse, and wears the coolest clothes. Katie’s life, meanwhile, is a daily struggle—from her dismal rental to her oddball flatmates to the tense office politics she’s trying to negotiate. No wonder Katie takes refuge in not-quite-true Instagram posts, especially as she’s desperate to make her dad proud.

Then, just as she’s finding her feet—not to mention a possible new romance—the worst happens. Demeter fires Katie. Shattered but determined to stay positive, Katie retreats to her family’s farm in Somerset to help them set up a vacation business. London has never seemed so far away—until Demeter unexpectedly turns up as a guest. Secrets are spilled and relationships rejiggered, and as the stakes for Katie’s future get higher, she must question her own assumptions about what makes for a truly meaningful life.

 

My Thoughts: There is something about the characters in My (Not So) Perfect Life that captured me from the start. They felt so real, and I enjoyed their flaws and frailties. Katie, aka Cat, is determined to have the life she has always wanted, living in London. Furthermore, she wants the perfect life she imagines that her boss Demeter is living. Demeter has flaws, of course; she is abrupt and a bit tactless. Additionally, she always seems to forget people’s names, a character flaw that heightens the resentment Cat is starting to feel.

After she is fired, Cat returns to the country and becomes Katie again. But she has learned about branding and graphics and puts her skills to work in the Glamping resort that her father and stepmother are creating on the farm. Katie begins to feel that special something you get when your talents are being utilized.

Then Demeter comes to spend a holiday at the farm, not knowing who Katie is, with her “old” name and the changes she has made in her appearance. Hiding in plain sight, Katie has the opportunity to see her former boss with a new perspective, and without their former roles.

Something was happening back at the company that had turned Demeter into who she had become…and now something is about to happen in front of Katie. Can she get to the bottom of the strange events? Will Katie help the woman she saw as a bully? Will she realize that there is more to Demeter than the gilded existence she had imagined her living? Could they have more in common than either believed possible?

A story about looking beyond the facades and realizing that everybody has difficulties and nobody is perfect, this one kept me intrigued throughout. 5 stars.

***