REVIEW: LIE TO ME, BY J. T. ELLISON

 

They built a life on lies…

Sutton and Ethan Montclair’s idyllic life is not as it appears. They seem made for each other, but the truth is ugly. Consumed by professional and personal betrayals and financial woes, the two both love and hate each other. As tensions mount, Sutton disappears, leaving behind a note saying not to look for her.

Ethan finds himself the target of vicious gossip as friends, family and the media speculate on what really happened to Sutton Montclair. As the police investigate, the lies the couple have been spinning for years quickly unravel. Is Ethan a killer? Is he being set up? Did Sutton hate him enough to kill the child she never wanted and then herself? The path to the answers is full of twists that will leave the reader breathless.

 

My Thoughts: Lie to Me opens with Ethan’s narrative, with him walking into the kitchen and finding a note from his wife. From that point on, everything he thinks is true turns out to be either a lie or a product of someone else’s lie. Which is it? When even the friends who had been so supportive to both Ethan and Sutton begin to distrust them, pointing fingers of blame, and then when it looks as if Ethan has done something horrific…we realize that nothing is at it seems.

At this point, the story switches to Sutton’s narrative. She is hiding out and has created a new life. But why? Did she set everything in motion, or is there another nefarious presence behind it all.

An anonymous third narrator drops little clues along the way, but we won’t discover the truth until almost the end. Then the pieces fall together and form a malevolent picture.

I could not stop reading until the last page, and even then, a final bread crumb was tossed at the reader. Definitely a 5 star read for me.***

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REVIEW: WHEN WE WERE WORTHY, BY MARYBETH MAYHEW WHALEN

 

A win brought them together, but loss may tear them apart.

When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn’t. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption—or will it be their downfall?

My Thoughts: In alternating perspectives, the characters in When We Were Worthy reveal their own truths in bits and pieces, including their secrets and fears.

Marglyn is the grieving mother of Mary Claire, and her biggest regret is that she let her daughter leave that night with harsh words between them. Afterwards, she has dreams and visions in which she and her daughter try to communicate.

Ava, the wife and substitute teacher of one of the girls, feels neglected and alone in this small town where she does not belong. That’s how she feels, anyway. And when something scandalous is brought to light, I empathized with how alone she felt when her husband, in-laws, and townspeople did not believe her; did not give her the benefit of the doubt.

Darcy, as the mother of the boy who probably caused the accident, is also lost and alone. Who does she turn to? Someone who has also gone through something…but could she be making a dreadful mistake?

The only cheerleader who did not go that night, and who is therefore alive, is Leah. Her secret about why she didn’t go was held close to her heart. But she struggled with what she needed to reveal; something that could help Ava.

How would the secrets and lies emerge? Who would be left standing, and who might sink further into the depths of despair? While I figured out a part of Leah’s dark secret, and the one that would make all the difference to Ava, I kept expecting something more shocking. So, in fact, the secret was a bit underwhelming. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the story. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE STOLEN MARRIAGE, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

One mistake, one fateful night, and Tess DeMello’s life is changed forever.

It is 1944. Pregnant, alone, and riddled with guilt, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly gives up her budding career as a nurse and ends her engagement to the love of her life, unable to live a lie. Instead, she turns to the baby’s father for help and agrees to marry him, moving to the small, rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry but see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. When one of the town’s golden girls dies in a terrible accident, everyone holds Tess responsible. But Henry keeps his secrets even closer now, though it seems that everyone knows something about him that Tess does not.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes Hickory, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess knows she is needed and defies Henry’s wishes to begin working at there. Through this work, she begins to find purpose and meaning. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle the truth behind her husband’s mysterious behavior and find the love—and the life—she was meant to have?

My Thoughts: I was immediately caught up in the story of Tess and Vincent; I felt her pain when one mistake led to impossible choices.

Her pregnancy and marriage to wealthy Henry Kraft would take Tess outside her comfort zone. No longer living in Little Italy in Baltimore, she struggled to fit into her new life in Hickory, North Carolina.

But even as she tried to settle into her new life, Henry’s behavior toward her was puzzling, and the hostility she felt from all the townspeople, including her mother-in-law, made her adjustment almost impossible. Would she ever unravel the secrets Henry held deep within?

When Tess finished her licensing for her R.N. and, despite her husband’s objections, began working as a volunteer nurse during the polio epidemic that had hit the town, she started to regain her feelings of self-worth and confidence.

When an unexpected person from her past gives her new hope, she suddenly and unexpectedly finds just the power she needs to regain her life. And a mysterious journey leads her to treasures she had never anticipated. The Stolen Marriage was a beautiful story that kept me rapidly turning pages. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: HAPPY PEOPLE READ & DRINK COFFEE, BY AGNES MARTIN-LUGAND

 

Diane seems to have the perfect life. She is a wife, mother, and the owner of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee, a cozy literary café in Paris. But when she suddenly loses her husband and daughter in a car accident, the world as she knows it disappears.

One year later, Diane moves to a small town on the Irish coast, determined to heal by rebuilding her life alone-until she meets Edward, a handsome and moody photographer, and falls into a surprising and tumultuous romance.

But will it last when Diane leaves Ireland for good? At once heartbreaking and uplifting, Diane’s story is deeply felt, reminding us that love remembered is love enduring.

My Thoughts: I loved the premise of the Paris bookshop/café, especially the name of it. I enjoyed the scenes with Diane’s best friend Felix…and how he helped prop her up after the death of her husband and daughter.

Moving to Ireland to escape the pain seemed like a good fix. But then we see her interacting with her grumpy neighbor Edward, and I knew that a tired trope of hate/love was on the horizon. A plot line that could easily turn boring.

The writing style of Happy People Read and Drink Coffee was a bit uninspiring, too. But I wanted to keep reading, to find out how it would all turn out. Would Diane’s time in Ireland bring her back to her real life, refreshed? Or would there be more sorrow ahead for her? Could she rebuild the life she once had? In the end, I did like how nothing was wrapped up and tied with a pretty bow. 3.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE, BY ZOE WHITTALL

The Woodburys cherish life in the affluent, bucolic suburb of Avalon Hills, Connecticut. George is a beloved science teacher at the local prep school, a hero who once thwarted a gunman, and his wife, Joan, is a hardworking ER nurse. They have brought up their children in this thriving town of wooded yards and sprawling lakes.

Then one night a police car pulls up to the Woodbury home and George is charged with sexual misconduct with students from his daughter’s school. As he sits in prison awaiting trial and claiming innocence, Joan vaults between denial and rage as friends and neighbors turn cold. Their daughter, seventeen-year-old Sadie, is a popular high school senior who becomes a social outcast—and finds refuge in an unexpected place. Her brother, Andrew, a lawyer in New York, returns home to support the family, only to confront unhappy memories from his past. A writer tries to exploit their story, while an unlikely men’s rights activist group attempts to recruit Sadie for their cause.

My Thoughts: From the very beginning of The Best Kind of People, I felt drawn into the lives of the Woodburys, especially Sadie and Joan. Their reactions to the events that unfolded felt real and spoke to how one might experience being blindsided in such a way.

Multiple narrators, including Joan, Sadie, Andrew, and Kevin brought out the way a community and a family are impacted by an arrest of a beloved individual. How should any of them feel? Should the family give unwavering support to a man who might be guilty? Should all who knew him for years be immediately on his side? Would the media presence affect how they reacted?

Visiting George in prison was another shock to reality for those whose previous experiences did not prepare them for this new normal.

How does Kevin’s new novel change how others view him? Can Sadie find a way to interpret the betrayals she sees all around her? Will she find a way to deal with those who believe that her family is somehow tainted by her father?

The activists were the most disturbing aspect for me, as the tendency to blame feminism for the allegations of the girls struck a wrong chord with me. While I did not necessarily believe the girls, since, despite what the proponents of victims’ rights might claim, teenage girls do occasionally lie, I could not align myself with those who slapped such a label on their cause.

In the end, the trial seemed to happen off stage, just as much of George’s experiences seemed separate from what everyone else was going through. As a result, the outcome felt flat and tepid. I was no longer at all sure about what was true or how to feel. 4.5 stars.


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

REVIEW: THE TRUTH WE BURY, BY BARBARA TAYLOR SISSEL

 

On the outside, Lily Isley’s life seems perfect: a wealthy husband, a ritzy gated community in Dallas, and a handsome son, AJ—a decorated marine about to be married to his love, Shea. But when a bridesmaid is murdered in AJ’s apartment and he can’t be found, Lily’s world collapses and a long-held family secret is at risk of exposure.

Dru Gallagher’s life took a different course. After her ex-husband, suffering from post-traumatic stress, threatened her and her daughter, Shea, with a shotgun, Dru was forced to leave her marriage and forge ahead as a working-class single mom. Now, the anger she sees in war veteran AJ’s eyes is heartbreakingly familiar—and makes Dru deeply afraid for her daughter’s safety…especially after Shea’s best friend and maid of honor is found dead.

With a killer on the loose and time running out, Lily and Dru, two very different women, unite in a single goal: to save their precious children from scandal, even from death. But will the mothers’ protection be enough, or will the fateful secret they expose—and the truth it reveals—destroy every hope of love?

My Thoughts: Our alternating narrators in The Truth We Bury take us from the present to the past, reminding us that buried secrets often have a way of surfacing.As the police search for a killer, their primary focus seems to be A. J. Will they ignore other possibilities and go for the easy target?

As the story unfolds and secrets emerge, everyone in the small town is affected, and life will never be the same.

It would be easy to point out the missteps of the police, but the killer has set events into motion to point them in a particular direction. The stunning revelations at the end changed everything that Lily and Dru had believed, but when all fell into place, the characters were left with no choice but to pick up the pieces. A poignant and unexpected ending kept me turning pages as a new normal began to emerge. 4 stars.

 ***

REVIEW: THE GOOD DAUGHTER, BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

 

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever…


My Thoughts: Living in a small Georgia town populated by angry residents who turn to crime more often than not, the Quinn family stands out. Mostly because they are not like the others, but also because Rusty Quinn defends some of those angry people, to the detriment of his family.

The Good Daughter brings out Charlie’s story first, as she has stayed in Pikeville to help her father, even though she has a separate practice and does not see eye-to-eye with him. But it is easy for the townsfolk to paint them both with the “liberal” brush, which does not endear them to the residents, especially the cops.

When something horrific happens one day, and when Charlie is caught up in the middle of it all, Sam is called back to town. Living in New York for several years, she is still trying to put the past behind her, especially the day of the devastating attack on her family. She still suffers from the aftermath of the events.

What is happening in Charlie’s marriage and personal life that has turned her into an angry person? How are Sam’s lasting injuries adding to the stress she feels when she faces the town again? What will Sam learn about the alleged perpetrator in the recent violence that will change how she and her father approach the case? What unexpected revelations will finally release them from the past?

Just when I thought I had everything figured out, more secrets are revealed and an astonishing denouement makes all the difference for the two sisters. A 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: THE LYING GAME, BY RUTH WARE

 

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister…

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).

My Thoughts: There is something disturbing about a group of young girls, drawn together by circumstances, who find amusement in a game that involves lying. Especially when the goal of the lying is to hurt others, to put them in their place.

They must know that the practice of lying will come back to bite them, if not now, later in life. Or perhaps, in their immaturity, they do not care.

Kate is really at the heart of the lying game, in my opinion, and as much as I could see her need to control her friends through this game, since she has had much sadness in her life, I wished that the girls could have found a way to tell her no.

Isa, whose narrative voice draws us into The Lying Game, has a lot to lose by going along with Kate’s games…and so does Fatima.

Perhaps they did not foresee the consequences when they started the game. But surely they could have stopped at some point, before it all turned dangerous and horrific. Why is Kate able to crook her little finger and bring them all to her side? Ultimately, why does she have so much control over them, and what is she keeping from them? Is she breaking their one rule not to lie to each other?

I thought I knew how the story would unfold, so there were some stunning surprises that I realize, in retrospect, were hiding out in dark corners, waiting to be revealed in the most tragic way possible. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE IDENTICALS, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

Harper Frost is laid-back, easygoing. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She likes a beer and a shot and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing anything fashionable. She’s inherited her father’s rundown house on Martha’s Vineyard, but she can’t hold down a job, and her latest romantic disaster has the entire island talking.

Two beautiful islands only eleven miles apart.

Tabitha Frost is dignified, refined. She prefers a fine wine and has inherited the impeccable taste of her mother, the iconic fashion designer Eleanor Roxie-Frost. She’s also inherited her mother’s questionable parenting skills–Tabitha’s teenage daughter, Ainsley, is in full rebellion mode–and a flailing fashion boutique on Nantucket in desperate need of a cash infusion.

One unforgettable summer that will change their lives forever.

After more than a decade apart, Harper and Tabitha switch islands–and lives–to save what’s left of their splintered family. But the twins quickly discover that the secrets, lies, and gossip they thought they’d outrun can travel between islands just as easily as they can. Will Harper and Tabitha be able to bury the hatchet and end their sibling rivalry once and for all? Before the last beach picnic of the season, there will be enough old resentments, new loves, and cases of mistaken identity to make this the most talked-about summer that Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket have experienced in ages.

My Thoughts: I loved the alternating narrators in The Identicals. Harper Frost, living on Martha’s Vineyard with her father Billy has been estranged from her twin Tabitha for fourteen years.

Something happened all those years ago that kept them apart. On Nantucket, Tabitha is struggling with raising Ainsley, her rebellious teen, and she would love nothing more than to escape.

When Billy dies, there is a reunion of sorts…but it does not go well. Someone mistakes Tabitha for Harper and throws a drink in her face.

Harper has definitely stirred up some animosity from the folks on the Vineyard, so when she and Tabitha change places, what could happen next?

I loved how they each stepped into the other’s life, sort of, and something about this exchange stirs up in me a bit of empathy for the other.

Finding love on the “wrong” island could be just what the two need in order to forge a reconciliation. I found myself rooting for each of them, as I stepped into the perspective of who happened to be narrating. A five star read for me.

 ***

REVIEW: BEFORE WE WERE YOURS, BY LISA WINGATE

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

My Thoughts: The alternating narrators in Before We Were Yours kept me intrigued throughout. Sometimes I couldn’t wait to get back to Rill’s storyline in the 1930s, as there was a lot of intensity as she described the horrors of her life in the orphanage.

But then I became caught up in Avery’s story as she began to put the pieces together and discover the connections between the past and the present.

How is May Crandall connected to Avery’s Grandma Judy? What brought them together, and what tore them apart?

As more and more discoveries are unveiled, I could not stop reading. A story that resonated, since I spent years as a social worker putting families back together again. Families torn asunder always tug at my heartstrings. 4.5 stars.

***