REVIEW: NEVER CHANGE, BY ELIZABETH BERG

You know people like me. I’m the one who sat in a folding chair out in the hall selling tickets to the prom but never going, the one everybody liked but no one wanted to be with.

A self-anointed spinster at fifty-one, Myra Lipinsky has endured the isolation of her middle life by doting on her dog, Frank, and immersing herself in her career as a visiting nurse. Myra considers herself reasonably content, telling herself, It’s enough, work and Frank. And it has been enough — until Chip Reardon, the too-good-to-be-true golden boy she adored from afar, is assigned to be her new patient. Choosing to forgo invasive treatment for an incurable illness, Chip has returned from Manhattan to the New England home of his childhood to spend what time he has left. Now, Myra and Chip find themselves engaged in a poignant redefinition of roles, and a complicated dance of memory, ambivalence, and longing.

My Thoughts: From the very first page of Never Change, the author captured the characters by revealing the small and ordinary details of their lives, and showing us how Myra, the protagonist, fit into their worlds and connected with each of them.

For a woman who grew up feeling alone and unlovable, Myra had certainly developed that unique skill that endeared her to those she cared for in her role as a visiting nurse.

I loved how she bent the rules, bringing her patients into her life, doing little extra things for them, and nurturing them in ways that each of them needed most.

Her growing connection to Chip, the man who was that high school golden boy, the one she loved from afar, grew into a sweet and loving story that could probably happen only in these circumstances: a man dying and the woman who nurses him to the end becoming the center of his universe.

What Myra learns about herself, her capacity to love and be loved, was poetic and beautiful. I was rooting for both Chip and Myra, even though there was bound to be sadness along the way. Would Myra find a way to move on and redefine who she was in the world? Could the gifts she received from Chip help her on that journey? A beautiful story that earned 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE FUTURES, BY ANNA PITONIAK

Julia and Evan fall in love as undergraduates at Yale. For Evan, a scholarship student from a rural Canadian town, Yale is a whole new world, and Julia–blond, beautiful, and rich–fits perfectly into the future he’s envisioned for himself. After graduation, and on the eve of the great financial meltdown of 2008, they move together to New York City, where Evan lands a job at a hedge fund. But Julia, whose privileged upbringing grants her an easy but wholly unsatisfying job with a nonprofit, feels increasingly shut out of Evan’s secretive world.

With the market crashing and banks failing, Evan becomes involved in a high-stakes deal at work–a deal that, despite the assurances of his Machiavellian boss, begins to seem more than slightly suspicious. Meanwhile, Julia reconnects with someone from her past who offers a glimpse of a different kind of life. As the economy craters, and as Evan and Julia spin into their separate orbits, they each find that they are capable of much more–good and bad–than they’d ever imagined.

My Thoughts: As I began reading The Futures, I was drawn in by the NYC setting, the financial crisis that would soon be erupting all around the characters, and that ongoing sense of actually living the story along with them.

Julia and Evan could be any young couple starting out, fresh from university with all their ideals guiding them. Julia came from a privileged life with a well-to-do family in Boston, ready to pick up the pieces for her if she ran into problems. A sense of entitlement certainly contributed to how she handled the events that unfolded over the months following the beginning of their seemingly perfect life.

Evan had a different kind of upbringing. From a small town in British Columbia, he depended upon his employment to maintain his visa, so he was in a more tenuous position. But he, too, had the strong ideals of a new graduate, and he certainly had the naivete of someone from small town life set down in the midst of a sophisticated and high-pressured environment.

It wasn’t surprising that Julia and Evan had a failure to communicate, partially due to their parallel lives. Evan worked until late at night, and Julia, with a shorter work day and time on her hands, fell prey to a burgeoning tendency to feel sorry for herself for not having the attention she thought she deserved.

When secrets and betrayals brought their relationship to a crashing halt, Julia escaped back to Boston, while Evan tried to keep his head down at work, as if hoping that everything would blow over eventually.

Alternately narrated by Julia and Evan, the reader has the opportunity to live inside their individual heads throughout the story, feeling empathy for each of them, while wondering how they would extricate themselves from their bad choices. Definitely engaging, I could not put this book down. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, BY AMY HATVANY

 

I want to rewind the clock, take back the night when the world shattered. I want to erase everything that went wrong.

Amber Bryant and Tyler Hicks have been best friends since they were teenagers—trusting and depending on each other through some of the darkest periods of their young lives. And while Amber has always felt that their relationship is strictly platonic, Tyler has long harbored the secret desire that they might one day become more than friends.

Returning home for the summer after her college graduation, Amber begins spending more time with Tyler than she has in years. Despite the fact that Amber is engaged to her college sweetheart, a flirtation begins to grow between them. One night, fueled by alcohol and concerns about whether she’s getting married too young, Amber kisses Tyler.

What happens next will change them forever.

My Thoughts: It Happens All the Time, narrated alternately by Amber and Tyler, leads us to the pivotal moments that will change everything.

The story begins with Tyler and Amber in a car, with Amber in control. She has a mission. One that she hopes will erase the effects of that disastrous night.

Then we move back in time, and from then on, we see their lives and their friendship unfold. From each perspective, we come to understand how each of them feels, and what their differences are, despite the deep friendship.

Amber’s history, with anorexia and anxiety disorders, offers a peek into how she sees the world. She views the friendship with Tyler as an important one. He is like the big brother she never had.

Tyler, whose father is emotionally and verbally abusive, suffers from anxieties that interfere with his daily life, including his work. To him, Amber looks like the one person who can make him whole again.

When Amber and Tyler develop a special closeness that summer after college, they each are flirting with each other, but with different goals in mind.

The drunken night changed everything. Amber felt betrayed by Tyler’s actions, but Tyler felt as if he was finally getting the closeness with Amber that he had always desired.

How will they resolve their differences? Will they heal? A story that kept me turning pages and in a quandary about their dilemma. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.
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REVIEW: ALMOST MISSED YOU, BY JESSICA STRAWSER

 

 

Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always. They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.

So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.
Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.

Told through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been.

My Thoughts: From the very first pages of Almost Missed You, I felt a connection to the character of Violet, and her serendipitous first meeting with Finn. I was reminded of occasions in my own life when events happened in such a way that they seemed “meant to be,” so I could totally relate to Violet’s feelings about her missed connections with Finn, and how happy she was that they finally connected. It did seem fated.But as we soon find out in this back and forth storyline, the fault might have been “in their stars.” Or in their overly persistent push to make these connections happen. Finn’s secrets were the huge stumbling block for them, once they did connect. And when events began to unravel, with secrets revealed in a most hurtful way, I was sure that his past would be too much for them to overcome. But could they find a new starting point?

Of course, Violet’s share of the responsibility lay in her failure to probe more into Finn’s past. Did she really ever know him?

Then there were the two “best friends,” Caitlin and George, and how their own actions and lack of transparency had contributed to it all.

I couldn’t stop turning the pages, hoping for some kind of resolution, eagerly waiting to see if Violet would reunite with her child. The fate of the other characters seemed less important to me, as I definitely rooted mostly for her. A book worthy of 5 stars.

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

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REVIEW: NEVER LET YOU GO, BY CHEVY STEVENS

 

 

Eleven years ago, Lindsey Nash escaped into the night with her young daughter and left an abusive relationship. Her ex-husband, Andrew, was sent to jail and Lindsey started over with a new life.

Now, Lindsey is older and wiser, with her own business and a teenage daughter who needs her more than ever. When Andrew is finally released from prison, Lindsey believes she has cut all ties and left the past behind her. But she gets the sense that someone is watching her, tracking her every move. Her new boyfriend is threatened. Her home is invaded, and her daughter is shadowed.

Lindsey is convinced it’s her ex-husband, even though he claims he’s a different person. But has he really changed? Is the one who wants her dead closer to home than she thought?

With Never Let You Go, Chevy Stevens delivers a chilling, twisting thriller that crackles with suspense as it explores the darkest heart of love and obsession.

My Thoughts: From the very beginning of Never Let You Go, I was glued to the pages, watching as Lindsey and Sophie struggled to move beyond the past and truly start over.

But every time they thought they could finally trust again, another unexpected glitch would knock them down.

Narrated by Lindsey and Sophie, the story arc goes back and forth in time, starting with the beginning of Andrew and Lindsey…and then showing us what life looks like for them after Andrew is released from prison. Set primarily on Vancouver Island and parts of British Columbia, the story and characters of this novel felt so real…as if I was walking along with them, stalked just as they were.

As much as Andrew seemed to be the same old lying, abusive man, there were too many things that didn’t quite add up. So, as a reader, I started suspecting this one and then that one. Who could be manipulating the situation, heading toward some kind of revenge?

Just when I thought “ah, it could be him,” or even “it might be her,” I would realize that the scenario didn’t work. I couldn’t trust anyone, and I felt a semblance of what Lindsey must have felt for her whole adult life. Never trusting, never feeling safe.

So I was stunned, as only one can be, when I figured out who was behind it all…and why. I started to piece it together near the end, and then the explosive, riveting events came to a crashing conclusion. A truly 5 star read that I will not forget.

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

REVIEW: RIGHT BEHIND YOU, BY LISA GARDNER

 

 

 

Eight years ago, Sharlah May Nash’s older brother beat their drunken father to death with a baseball bat in order to save both of their lives. Now thirteen years old, Sharlah has finally moved on. About to be adopted by retired FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his partner, Rainie Conner, Sharlah loves one thing best about her new family: They are all experts on monsters.

Then the call comes in. A double murder at a local gas station, followed by reports of an armed suspect shooting his way through the wilds of Oregon. As Quincy and Rainie race to assist, they are forced to confront mounting evidence: The shooter may very well be Sharlah’s older brother, Telly Ray Nash, and it appears his killing spree has only just begun.

As the clock winds down on a massive hunt for Telly, Quincy and Rainie must answer two critical questions: Why after eight years has this young man started killing again? And what does this mean for Sharlah? Once upon a time, Sharlah’s big brother saved her life. Now, she has two questions of her own: Is her brother a hero or a killer? And how much will it cost her new family before they learn the final, shattering truth? Because as Sharlah knows all too well, the biggest danger is the one standing right behind you.

My Thoughts: The reader is led through Right Behind You by a series of narrators, alternating between Rainie, Quincy, Shelly, and others…and in between those comes the italicized narrative of Telly Ray Nash.

We think we know what happened…and we are just wondering why it happened after all these years. And why would Telly kill the Duvalls, his very loving foster parents? What could have led him to kill apparent strangers in a gas station? Can a young man who has protected his sister morph into a mass killer? What do these killings tell us, and, if the killer is not Telly, then who? What secrets were Frank and Sandra Duvall keeping, and how does Sandra’s past figure into what is happening?

The characters felt real, with Quincy, a former FBI profiler, front and center in the search, and his wife Rainey, who was also involved, worked to keep Sharlah balanced as emotions ran high. Sheriff Shelly Atkins showed us that “small town sheriff” did not define her: she had skills, and her ability to stay calm in the face of the intense actions made her a great part of the team.

The story kept me engaged throughout, although the numerous processes involved in tracking the killer became tedious after a while. But then I perked up as we began to realize that many things did not add up, and that now there were more questions than answers. As the clues led us to the final reveal, I was on the edge of my seat. Definitely 5 stars for me.

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REVIEW: BEHIND HER EYES, BY SARAH PINBOROUGH

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Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

In Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern day love triangle and not only turns it on its head, but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling.

My Thoughts: The story begins in a predictable kind of way—single mom meets handsome stranger in a bar—and then discovers who that man is when she shows up for work.

But nothing else about Behind Her Eyes follows the normal routes in a story. Alternating narratives by Louise, the single woman, and Adele, David’s wife, take us back and forth in the present…and then all the way back into the “then” of Adele’s life, with her friend Rob.

Early on, we realize that Adele knows more than she is sharing with her new friend Louise, and we suspect that she is playing a very dangerous game. But it will take a while to accept the extent to which Adele will go…and not until the very end will we know who was really calling the shots.

What are the secrets David and Adele are keeping? What does Rob have to do with the dream world that is being shared with Louise? How will a paranormal twist change everything?

Without introducing “spoiler” information, I can only say that I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, up to a point, and even though the revelations at the end left me stunned…I was forced to suspend disbelief in a major way. This book was a case of too many “out there” experiences, which tainted my enjoyment ever so slightly. Therefore, 4 stars.

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