REVIEW: WHEN SHE WAS GOOD, BY MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

 

Criminal psychologist Cyrus Haven and Evie Cormac return in this mesmerizing new thriller from internationally bestselling author Michael Robotham, a writer Stephen King calls “an absolute master…with heart and soul.”

Who is Evie, the girl with no past, running from? She was discovered hiding in a secret room in the aftermath of a terrible crime. Her ability to tell when someone is lying helped Cyrus crack an impenetrable case in Good Girl, Bad Girl. Now, the closer Cyrus gets to uncovering answers about Evie’s dark history, the more he exposes Evie to danger, giving her no choice but to run. Ultimately, both will have to decide if some secrets are better left buried and some monsters should never be named…


Alternating narrators tell the story in When She Was Good. From Cyrus, to Evie, the story unfolds. Another player shows herself along the way in the form of Sacha, the young woman who had found Evie hiding out in a closet.

A child with a dark past and no current connections to those who could fill in the blanks, little Evie is almost grown and still hiding from the truth about her past.

Who is still searching for her and trying to do her harm? Can Cyrus protect her by helping her hide the truth, or must he finally discover the answers?

A fascinating tale that was slow in revealing itself, the intensity builds toward the end. 4.0 stars.

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REVIEW: UNFOLLOW ME, BY CHARLOTTE DUCKWORTH

You can’t stop watching her.

Violet Young is a hugely popular journalist-turned-mummy-influencer, with three children, a successful husband and a million subscribers on YouTube who tune in daily to watch her everyday life unfold.

Until the day she’s no longer there.

But one day she disappears from the online world—her entire social media presence deleted overnight, with no explanation. Has she simply decided that baring her life to all online is no longer a good idea, or has something more sinister happened to Violet?

But do you really know who Violet is?

Her fans are obsessed with finding out the truth, but their search quickly reveals a web of lies, betrayal, and shocking consequences…


What is the pull that online fans have to Violet, a mummy influencer who is someone to envy? Do they really adore her, or are they just hoping she will fall on her face?

Initially, we meet a couple of fans: Yvonne and Lily. They each have their individual stories. One seems to be a true fan, but the other could be out to get Violet.

Alternating narratives lead us through the story and the pitfalls they each have stumbled over. Who has the most to gain by Violet’s destruction?

Something dark has happened to explain why Violet has disappeared, and as we peek into the world of fans Yvonne and Lily, we finally understand their motivations.

As Unfollow Me finally concludes, with many secrets revealed, each of the women we have followed along the way has faced major changes that scare them away from the world of online stalking. Will they redeem themselves,or just turn the page to a slightly different venue? 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: CLEO MCDOUGAL REGRETS NOTHING, BY ALLISON WINN SCOTCH

Cleo McDougal is a born politician. From congresswoman to senator, the magnetic, ambitious single mother now has her eye on the White House—always looking forward, never back. Until an estranged childhood friend shreds her in an op-ed hit piece gone viral.

With seven words—“Cleo McDougal is not a good person”—the presidential hopeful has gone from in control to damage control, and not just in Washington but in life.

Enter Cleo’s “regrets list” of 233 and counting. Her chief of staff has a brilliant idea: pick the top ten, make amends during a media blitz, and repair her reputation. But there are regrets, and there are regrets: like her broken relationship with her sister, her affair with a law school professor…and the regret too big to even say out loud.

But with risk comes reward, and as Cleo makes both peace and amends with her past, she becomes more empowered than ever to tackle her career, confront the hypocrites out to destroy her, and open her heart to what matters most—one regret at a time.

Politics do not mesh well with an ordinary life and a journey moving forward, which sometimes means fixing the mistakes of the past. In Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing, we meet a determined thirty-something woman who has suffered losses and in spite of them, decides to change her life. We get to see what fixing one’s life looks like up close and personal.Cleo is a delightful character who could have been your next-door neighbor or a best friend from high school, but her career in politics has made everything more intense, more focused. To make up for the void in her life, she has made her career and her teenage son the center of her life, to the exclusion of everyone else.The startling op-ed piece written by her former high school friend turns her life upside down and she finds herself determined to fix everything. Even if it means looking at that long list of regrets she created over the years.

I liked Cleo, in spite of, or maybe because of those errors in judgment. I didn’t like MaryAnne Newman, who turned a competitive action in high school into something so much more…and then wouldn’t let it go. But then again, she had made their competition into something that meant the whole world to her and explained everything that went wrong in her life. Teenage angst can linger long into adulthood, and in Cleo’s case, picking up the pieces became a goal. Something to work toward. Making amends and changing how she moved forward. Even confronting one of her biggest errors in judgment.

Social media and the hashtag experience figured into Cleo’s path forward and kept the story relevant and interesting. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: IMPERFECT WOMEN, BY ARAMINTA HALL

 

When Nancy Hennessy is murdered, she leaves behind two best friends, an adoring husband and daughter, and a secret lover whose identity she took to the grave. Nancy was gorgeous, wealthy, and cherished by those who knew her—from the outside, her life was perfect. But as the investigation into her death flounders and her friends Eleanor and Mary wrestle with their grief, dark details surface that reveal how little they knew their friend, each other, and maybe even themselves.

A gripping, immersive novel about impossible expectations and secrets that fester and become lethal, Imperfect Women unfolds through the perspectives of three fascinating women. Their enduring, complex friendship is the knot the reader must untangle to answer the question Who killed Nancy?


They met at university, and for years, as their lives intersected, they were more closely entwined than siblings. Imperfect Women could have been an apt description of who they were and who they became, as their bonds seemed to unravel over the years, until finally, one of them would permanently alter the course of their lives.

Their stories alternated, but not in the usual way. Three sections were devoted separately to each of the women: Eleanor, Nancy, and Mary, in turn, would offer varying perspectives until we finally have the answers to the quandary of who murdered Nancy.

A dark story that reminds us that we “do have a responsibility to take care of ourselves and to feel precious despite our failings. Because that’s how you learn there is no such thing as perfect.” A thoughtful journey that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: UNTIL I FIND YOU, BY REA FREY

 

Since Rebecca Gray was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease, everything in her life consists of numbers. Each day her world grows a little darker and each step becomes a little more dangerous.

Following days of feeling like someone’s watching her, Bec awakes at home to the cries of her son in his nursery. When it’s clear he’s not going to settle, Bec goes to check on him.
She reaches in. Picks him up.
But he’s not her son.
And no one believes her.

One woman’s desperate search for her son . . .

In a world where seeing is believing, Bec must rely on her own conviction and a mother’s instinct to uncover the truth about what happened to her baby and bring him home for good.


From the first moments that Rebecca realized that her son had been switched for another, the intensity of her search and her frustration at not being believed kept me rapidly turning pages. Until I Find You is this mother’s quest for her son, battling those who would not believe her while following clues as they arose.

I didn’t trust any of Rebecca’s friends, especially since they were so dismissive of her feelings and instincts. I decided that one of them must have been the culprit, but as much as I did believe that, it was almost impossible to find the truth until one day something totally unexpected happened.

How did Rebecca and her ex-boyfriend Jake finally zero in on a way to prove that the baby in her crib was not Jackson? I liked the cleverness of this action, which ultimately helped the truth come out.

An engaging read that earned 5 stars.

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

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REVIEW: THE SAFE PLACE, BY ANNA DOWNES

 

Emily is a mess.

Emily Proudman just lost her acting agent, her job, and her apartment in one miserable day.

Emily is desperate.

Scott Denny, a successful and charismatic CEO, has a problem that neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can fix. Until he meets Emily.

Emily is perfect.

Scott offers Emily a summer job as a housekeeper on his remote, beautiful French estate. Enchanted by his lovely wife Nina, and his eccentric young daughter, Aurelia, Emily falls headlong into this oasis of wine-soaked days by the pool. But soon Emily realizes that Scott and Nina are hiding dangerous secrets, and if she doesn’t play along, the consequences could be deadly.

The story in The Safe Place unfolds slowly, almost like a lazy afternoon on a beautiful French estate. Emily is drawn to Nina and Scott, and to the life they share. But beneath the beauty, she senses something strange and secretive and mysterious about this family.

I was especially curious about Nina, whose behavior was very worrisome, and the things she hides behind cabinets and in cupboards…well, one might wonder what more she has hidden. But where is Scott in the mix? He is away most of the time, and whenever Emily wonders if she is in the wrong place, he reappears, seemingly pulling her into his web.

The slow pace felt like a drag at times, but then suddenly and unexpectedly the pace quickens and we begin to see bits and pieces of the hidden things. And they are alarming. From that point on, I was glued to the pages, wondering what would be revealed. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: NOMADLAND, BY JESSICA BRUDER

From the beet fields of North Dakota to the campgrounds of California to Amazon’s CamperForce program in Texas, employers have discovered a new, low-cost labor pool, made up largely of transient older adults. These invisible casualties of the Great Recession have taken to the road by the tens of thousands in RVs and modified vans, forming a growing community of nomads.

Nomadland tells a revelatory tale of the dark underbelly of the American economy—one which foreshadows the precarious future that may await many more of us. At the same time, it celebrates the exceptional resilience and creativity of these Americans who have given up ordinary rootedness to survive, but have not given up hope.

 

What happens to aging members of the American middle class when their traditional jobs end and new jobs are impossible to find? How can they survive after the Great Recession has taken away their livelihood and possibly even their housing? How will they move on as they struggle to find their footing? Housing is a big piece of the pie that may no longer be available in the traditional sense, so the people in Nomadland have carved out a new way to live.

The author has done her research and taken time to move among these people whose lives had to change dramatically. She literally traveled alongside them on their journey, studying them as they followed their transient path in their vans and RVs, moving from one low paying job to another. They took up jobs in campgrounds and in Amazon warehouses, striking out against the traditional system to carve their own new world order. They build unique communities traveling from place to place, depending on themselves and the resources they find. A unique and engaging story that earned 4.5 stars.

Read for the Nonfiction Challenge. –#2020ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: WHAT YOU WISH FOR, BY KATHERINE CENTER

 

Samantha Casey is a school librarian who loves her job, the kids, and her school family with passion and joy for living.

But she wasn’t always that way.

Duncan Carpenter is the new school principal who lives by rules and regulations, guided by the knowledge that bad things can happen.

But he wasn’t always that way.

And Sam knows it. Because she knew him before—at another school, in a different life. Back then, she loved him—but she was invisible. To him. To everyone. Even to herself. She escaped to a new school, a new job, a new chance at living. But when Duncan, of all people, gets hired as the new principal there, it feels like the best thing that could possibly happen to the school—and the worst thing that could possibly happen to Sam. Until the opposite turns out to be true. The lovable Duncan she’d known is now a suit-and-tie wearing, rule-enforcing tough guy so hell-bent on protecting the school that he’s willing to destroy it.

As the school community spirals into chaos, and danger from all corners looms large, Sam and Duncan must find their way to who they really are, what it means to be brave, and how to take a chance on love—which is the riskiest move of all.

I loved everything about What You Wish For, from the characters to the theme of choosing joy and doing it in spite of your fears.

Samantha and Duncan had a history that wasn’t necessarily good, especially with their combination of characteristics and fears. So when they are thrust together after Max dies and he is brought in as the new school principal, Sam learns that what she had wished for wasn’t turning out so great.

But between her friend Alice and Max’s widow Babette, a plan is created. A plan that could change everything about their lives and how they see things.

Characters like little Clay, the nine-year-old genius, kept me loving everything to the very end. Negative characters like Kent Buckley, Clay’s father and Babette’s son-in-law, kept me turning pages to see if justice would be served and he would no longer be a thorn in our sides. A book I didn’t want to put down, this one earned 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE GUEST LIST, BY LUCY FOLEY

 

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

As we follow along, getting acquainted with the characters in The Guest List, we are on tenterhooks, wondering what will go wrong. The sense of foreboding hovers overhead as the alternating narrators tell the story. Who will end up in a dark place…or dead?

Jules, the bride, was annoyingly determined for perfection, critical of anything or anyone that might interfere with that goal.

Olivia, the bridesmaid and sister to the bride, is in a mood from the beginning. Something has gone awry for her, but she is trying to hide whatever that might be.

Hannah, the “Plus One,” is married to one of the bride’s male friends, and the two of them seem to be too close for comfort. Why are they often huddled together, whispering, and will their behavior trigger something in Hannah?

What mysterious drinking games amongst the groomsmen are setting off sparks among the other guests?

As the days pass, we know that dark and mysterious events will soon be coming…and we hold our breaths, waiting.

Just when we have imagined the scenario that will play out, we realize that there are complex puzzle pieces coming together to make up the eventual tragedy, and nothing can be sorted out easily.

By the time I turned the last page, I felt something for each and every character. Some of it was sadness. There was some empathy, too, but also a dark aura of disgust and contempt for the entitlement that had threaded itself through their lives. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE SEA OF LOST GIRLS, BY CAROL GOODMAN

Tess has worked hard to keep her past buried, where it belongs. Now she’s the wife to a respected professor at an elite boarding school, where she also teaches. Her seventeen-year-old son, Rudy, whose dark moods and complicated behavior she’s long worried about, seems to be thriving: he has a lead role in the school play and a smart and ambitious girlfriend. Tess tries not to think about the mistakes she made eighteen years ago, and mostly, she succeeds.

And then one more morning she gets a text at 2:50 AM: it’s Rudy, asking for help. When Tess picks him up she finds him drenched and shivering, with a dark stain on his sweatshirt. Four hours later, Tess gets a phone call from the Haywood school headmistress: Lila Zeller, Rudy’s girlfriend, has been found dead on the beach, not far from where Tess found Rudy just hours before.

As the investigation into Lila’s death escalates, Tess finds her family attacked on all sides. What first seemed like a tragic accidental death is turning into something far more sinister, and not only is Tess’s son a suspect but her husband is a person of interest too. But Lila’s death isn’t the first blemish on Haywood’s record, and the more Tess learns about Haywood’s fabled history, the more she realizes that not all skeletons will stay safely locked in the closet.

For most of Tess’s life, she has been trying to bury the past and her dark secrets. Throughout The Sea of Lost Girls, our narrator Tess has many fears and reasons to try to hide everything she has lived through. Some might point out that she could have prevented a lot of her own pain if she had come forward to share about how she had been abused and assaulted by someone who should have been a protector, but old habits die hard. And when women fear that others will not believe them, they often hunker down and hide everything even more.

The story takes us to the distant past and how the school where Tess and her husband teach has its own reasons to bury the past, but once Tess realizes how deep the secrets go and how much danger is coming at her, she begins to come forward with the truth.

Will she be able to protect her son? Can her husband be protected? Or will she find out that she is covering for the wrong people?

An intense tale that kept me guessing, not sure who had killed Lila or what had happened to all the lost girls. Just when I thought I knew the answers, another surprise would come around the bend. 4.5 stars.

***