REVIEW: THE FABULOUS BOUVIER SISTERS, BY KASHNER & SCHOENBERGER

 

A poignant, evocative, and wonderfully gossipy account of the two sisters who represented style and class above all else—Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill—from the authors of Furious Love.

When sixty-four-year-old Jackie Kennedy Onassis died in her Fifth Avenue apartment, her younger sister Lee wept inconsolably. Then Jackie’s thirty-eight-page will was read. Lee discovered that substantial cash bequests were left to family members, friends, and employees—but nothing to her. “I have made no provision in this my Will for my sister, Lee B. Radziwill, for whom I have great affection, because I have already done so during my lifetime,” read Jackie’s final testament.

Drawing on the authors’ candid interviews with Lee Radziwill, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters explores their complicated relationship, placing them at the center of twentieth-century fashion, design, and style.

In life, Jackie and Lee were alike in so many ways. Both women had a keen eye for beauty—in fashion, design, painting, music, dance, sculpture, poetry—and both were talented artists. Both loved pre-revolutionary Russian culture, and the blinding sunlight, calm seas, and ancient olive groves of Greece. Both loved the siren call of the Atlantic, sharing sweet, early memories of swimming with the rakish father they adored, Jack Vernou Bouvier, at his East Hampton retreat. But Jackie was her father’s favorite, and Lee, her mother’s. One would grow to become the most iconic woman of her time, while the other lived in her shadow. As they grew up, the two sisters developed an extremely close relationship threaded with rivalry, jealousy, and competition. Yet it was probably the most important relationship of their lives.

My Thoughts: Since I am a fan of all things Jackie, as well as the Kennedys, I was excited to learn more about her sisterhood bond with Lee Radziwill; therefore, The Fabulous Bouvier Sisters flew off the shelf and into my hands. The story began with Jackie’s shocking will, in which she left nothing to Lee.

Sweeping back in time to their beginnings, we explore their relationship with each other: their rivalries at home; their basic differences; and the sense of favoritism for Jackie by their father, all of which set the stage for an intense competition between them.

Over the years, they were alternately close and distant, the competitiveness a constant, even as their sisterhood bond would win out in times of crisis. At those times, they were usually there for each other.

I liked learning more about Lee’s life after she decided to follow Jackie’s example by pursuing a profession. For Lee, interior design was her special talent, and I loved reading about the homes she decorated, including some of her own.

Jackie’s bookish tastes had taken her into publishing, which suited her temperament and skills.

By this time, both were living in Manhattan apartments, but each had summer homes on the islands. They had discovered that they loved spending time with their children as extended family, offering the closeness between the cousins that they had always enjoyed with each other.

But the push and pull of their relationship continued, and by the time they each had more traumatic losses in their later years, some of which were financial for Lee, the differences between them grew. Sadly, their chance for the closeness they longed for was no longer there. A poignant tale of sisters, losses, and how family ties can only carry one so far. 4.5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: AN ANONYMOUS GIRL, BY GREER HENDRICKS & SARAH PEKKANEN

 

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave.

Question #1: Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?

But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding.

Question #2: Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?

As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Question #3: Should a punishment always fit the crime?

From the authors of the blockbuster bestseller The Wife Between Us comes an electrifying new novel about doubt, passion, and just how much you can trust someone.

 

My Thoughts: Caught up immediately in the events of An Anonymous Girl, I was intrigued…and then concerned for Jessica’s ultimate fate. A New York makeup artist, Jessica is struggling financially, and is often exhausted from work. She lives in a tiny studio apartment with her dog Leo.

She also feels guilty about her parents’ financial circumstances because of something that happened years before. The money from the study could help.

Our story is told by alternating narrators, with someone who appears anonymous as one of them, but that person clearly seems to be directing Jessica’s life. And soon the director is obsessed with everything Jessica does, and, in fact, seems to know everything she is doing and keeps ahead of her along the way.

As the intensity increases, my concern for Jessica grows exponentially. Who, if anyone, can she trust? What events will lead her to the edge and change her life forever?

I was addicted to finding out, while cheering for Jessica. Would she escape from the clutches of her “director,” or would she fail?

A beautifully crafted tale with lots of red flags and a cautionary undercurrent, I could not put it down. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: I’VE GOT MY EYES ON YOU, BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK

 

When a terrible crime shocks a New Jersey community, all signs point to one suspect. But if he’s innocent as he claims, it means the murderer is still out there…

After throwing a party when her parents were away, 18-year-old Kerry Dowling is discovered lifeless at the bottom of the family pool. The police immediately question Kerry’s boyfriend, who—despite proclaiming his love for her—was seen arguing with Kerry that night. As neighbors and classmates grieve the loss of their friend, Kerry’s 28-year-old sister Aline, a guidance counselor, searches for answers. She’ll do anything to help the Detective Mike Wilson learn what really happened the night Kerry was killed.

Was someone watching Kerry the night of the murder? For Aline, the truth could be deadly.

My Thoughts: I’ve Got My Eyes on You grabbed me from the opening lines and held onto my interest throughout. I loved the short chapters and fast pace. A murder in a backyard, the search for the perpetrator, and a growing number of suspects kept me guessing.

The characters intrigued me, as I wondered which of them would turn out to be the killer.

Aline, the sister of Kerry Dowling, had just started a new job as a guidance counselor at the high school, so she worked with the students to find out more about Kerry’s life, vigorously following clues. She also found herself drawn to Mike Wilson, the primary detective, and he listened to her ideas and suggestions.

Scott Kimball, a lacrosse coach who had connections to the kids, seemed friendly and helpful. But then Aline began to resent how he seemed to be so pushy and overly attentive. She turned away from him in favor of Mike.

I liked how the case grew more complex over time, and I started having suspicions about one or two of the characters. How would the pursuit of answers place Aline and the high school girls in danger?

An engaging story that kept me racing to find answers while relaxing into the story. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: UNDER MY SKIN, BY LISA UNGER

 

What if the nightmares are actually memories?

It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?

The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts—there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she’s unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?

My Thoughts: Poppy’s first person narrative takes us up and down and around the bend, as she struggles with the aftermath of her husband Jack’s murder.

Under My Skin captured my interest, but I often found myself lost between her reality, her dreams, and her drug induced moments. Her friends seemed to be caring and nurturing, but I was soon suspicious of them and their smothering ways. Were they caring or controlling? Were they protective or were they hiding their own dark secrets?

Because it was hard to decipher Poppy’s state of mind, I had to reread sections to grasp what was going on: was she in a disturbed reality, a dream, or was she lost in her memories? Was she being stalked? Was a hooded man following her?

I especially disliked Layla, Poppy’s long time best friend, who seemed so bossy and controlling. And one of Jack’s old friends, Alvaro, was dark and brooding, and set off red flags for me. But what we discover before the end of the tale was how little we knew about any of them.

Set in Manhattan, the story also takes us to The Hollows, a spooky small town that shows up in other books by the author. 4 stars.

***

SERENDIPITOUS MOMENTS: FIRST BOOKS OF THE YEAR…

As the year winds down, I am beginning to ponder the First Book of the Year Event…and already have my book selected. 

I also have a folder of previous photos for that event, and I’ve noticed a startling difference between how I looked at the beginning of 2018…see below.

And below that shot, you’ll notice my look nowadays.  Yes, my daughter stripped the color out of my hair when I developed that annoying allergy to the products…and it has been “silvering” ever since.  The purple streak helps me feel like my feisty self.

Are any of you already planning for your First Books?  How long have you participated?  I first joined in 2014.

Let’s all have a fabulous New Year with books!

***

REVIEW: IN HER BONES, BY KATE MORETTI

 

 

Fifteen years ago, Lilith Wade was arrested for the brutal murder of six women. After a death row conviction, media frenzy, and the release of an unauthorized biography, her thirty-year-old daughter Edie Beckett is just trying to survive out of the spotlight. She’s a recovering alcoholic with a dead-end city job and an unhealthy codependent relationship with her brother.

Edie also has a disturbing secret: a growing obsession with the families of Lilith’s victims. She’s desperate to see how they’ve managed—or failed—to move on. While her escalating fixation is a problem, she’s careful to keep her distance. That is, until she crosses a line and a man is found murdered.

Edie quickly becomes the prime suspect—and while she can’t remember everything that happened the night of the murder, she’d surely remember killing someone. With the detective who arrested her mother hot on her trail, Edie goes into hiding. She’s must get to the truth of what happened that night before the police—or the real killer—find her.

Unless, of course, she has more in common with her mother than she’s willing to admit…

My Thoughts: I was immediately caught up in the story of Edie and her serial killer mother Lilith. How does a daughter escape the legacy of her mother’s sins?

I enjoyed seeing how Edie (known as Beckett) tried to overcome her obsessions, while also struggling to hold down a job, maintain normal relationships, and move beyond the past. But could she ever find any kind of normalcy?

Then when a murder turns everything upside down for her, and she is the prime suspect, she must go off the grid and try to solve the case on her own. In the process, she begins to learn more about her mother and about herself.

In Her Bones is told in alternating narratives: from Edie, Detective Gil Brandt, and then from the excerpts of a book based on the crimes. The anonymous author seems like an insider, because of the details he or she knows. I liked how Edie figured out who wrote the book…and confronted the author.

Despite my fascination, the book was a bit of a slog for me…and I was glad to put the gruesome details behind me. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: DAY OF THE DEAD, BY NICCI FRENCH

A decade ago, psychologist Frieda Klein was sucked into the orbit of Dean Reeve—a killer able to impersonate almost anyone, a man who can disappear without a trace, a psychopath obsessed with Frieda herself.

In the years since, Frieda has worked with—and sometimes against—the London police in solving their most baffling cases. But now she’s in hiding, driven to isolation by Reeve. When a series of murders announces his return, Frieda must emerge from the shadows to confront her nemesis. And it’s a showdown she might not survive.

This gripping cat-and-mouse thriller pits one of the most fascinating characters in contemporary fiction against an enemy like none other. Smart, sophisticated, and spellbinding, it’s a novel to leave you breathless.

 

My Thoughts: In this final episode with Frieda Klein, we do not connect with her at first. We see some murders, strangely linked, and meet some detectives who are trying to solve the cases. When Lola, a young woman fascinated with Frieda Klein shows up on the scene, we know that Frieda is sure to appear.

When she does, we almost don’t recognize her. Disguises and hiding places characterize everything about Day of the Dead, as Frieda has hunkered down for a final confrontation with Dean Reeve. He makes brief appearances throughout the story, but none of the detectives, not even Frieda, are able to get close enough to capture him…or even interact with him. Sometimes the story slogged along for me, as I hoped for a brilliant conclusion.

What will happen in the final moments, as Frieda sets her plan in motion, a secretive plan that she must carry out alone? Intensely suspenseful, the story kept me turning pages, even as I could feel a lump in my throat at the idea of what would happen next. And behind the scenes, Lola has carried out her own secret plan. What are her motives, and why is she taking these steps? We sense an ending as we journey along the rivers and canals, as memories of a series of deaths along the way bring us to the climactic moments. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: A YEAR OF EXTRAORDINARY MOMENTS, BY BETTE LEE CROSBY

 

Tracy Briggs has finally gotten her act together. She’s focusing on her own life and helping her hearing-impaired son learn to talk. With her sister married and exploring a new career, Tracy has begun to run the family’s magazine business and feels her life is pretty much perfect. That is, until her son’s deadbeat dad shows up in Magnolia Grove asking for a second chance.

Now that her son is getting the help he needs and a promising new romance with his teacher is in bloom, Tracy wants to keep her life just as it is. But her ex isn’t taking no for an answer. And when a spirited elderly woman enters Tracy’s life in an unexpected way, she’ll have to work harder than ever to keep her new life on track.

Torn between the past she knows and the uncertain future, Tracy must decide what is best for both her and her son, learning along the way that ordinary choices can bring extraordinary possibilities.

My Thoughts: When I first started meeting the delightful characters of A Year of Extraordinary Moments, I was immediately caught up in their lives, with all their flaws, hopes, dreams, and losses.

Alice DeLuca is the first one we meet, and I could sense her longing to once again connect with her grandson Dominic. His mother had abandoned him, but Alice raised him. And now that she is terminally ill, time is running out.

In Philadelphia, Dominic is just barely making it, with nothing or nobody meaningful in his life. When his grandmother calls, requesting he visit her in Magnolia Grove, he sets off to make her wish come true.

But once there, Dominic falls back into his old ways, drinking and carousing.

Meanwhile, Tracy is raising Dominic’s son alone, but she has the help of her mother Lila and her sister Meghan.

What, if anything, will bring these disparate family members together? Will Alice’s final days bring some of the joy she has desired? Unexpected events change the course of all their lives, and we discover that sometimes life brings just what we need.

With a great setting and characters I could root for, this book earned 4.5 stars.
***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

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.

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.