REVIEW: LYING IN WAIT, BY LIZ NUGENT

 

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.

On the surface, Lydia Fitzsimons has the perfect life—wife of a respected, successful judge, mother to a beloved son, mistress of a beautiful house in Dublin. That beautiful house, however, holds a secret. And when Lydia’s son, Laurence, discovers its secret, wheels are set in motion that lead to an increasingly claustrophobic and devastatingly dark climax.

 

My Thoughts: Lying in Wait has been described as “seductively sinister,” and from the very first page, we become aware of the strangely dark voice of Lydia Fitzsimons, wife to the judge and mother to her only son Laurence. Lydia is one of those narcissistic women who is primarily focused on herself and her needs, and her apparent overwhelming love for son Laurence is really more about what she needs from him. When her darkness turns pathological, she becomes an interesting study in mental illness.

Her husband Andrew didn’t stand a chance. His poor choices were all about serving her needs, too, and those would come back to haunt him.

The intersecting lives of Andrew, Lydia, and Laurence with Annie Doyle, her sister Karen, and her parents have their twisted origins in one dreadful night when everything went out of control.

But then we learn that way back in the past, Lydia’s true colors showed themselves at a tragic event when she was nine years old.

Would Laurence be able to extricate himself from the grasping control of his mother? Could he continue to bury the secret that was lying in wait to come out? Or would his mother’s twisted needs turn everything upside down?

Set in Dublin in the 1980s, the story immediately hooked me, with the dark and disturbing characters and their secrets; I couldn’t stop turning the pages, loving every minute with them all, curiously wondering how it would all end. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley.

Advertisements

REVIEW: EVERY NOTE PLAYED, BY LISA GENOVA

 

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

 

My Thoughts: With every new book by this author, I am hesitant to start turning the pages. The books are all so powerful and poignant, beautifully written and well-researched, and so emotional that I know I will soon be immersed in the tragedy that besets the characters. The same was true with Every Note Played, a story of a once-happy couple, with everything ahead of them. Broken by anger and the irretrievable destruction of their marriage, they couldn’t be more distant from one another when Richard receives his terrifying diagnosis.

Alternately narrated by Richard and Karina, we feel the depths of their individual pain as they tell their story, beginning with the happier days in the past and leading up to the momentous incident that decided their future: we feel the total helplessness Richard confronts on that defining day, and what it took for Karina to step up to help.

This book was one I had to set aside periodically, as I couldn’t take in the details of their lives without wanting a break. It is impossible not to experience their challenges with them, as the characters’ vivid descriptions leave nothing to the imagination. I learned more than I could have anticipated about the disease that took over their lives, and with each page, I felt a part of their suffering. A story that kept me turning the pages, I give this latest by Genova 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: BEFORE I LET YOU GO, BY KELLY RIMMER

 

The 2:00 a.m. call is the first time Lexie Vidler has heard her sister’s voice in years. Annie is a drug addict, a thief, a liar—and in trouble, again. Lexie has always bailed Annie out, given her money, a place to sleep, sent her to every kind of rehab. But this time, she’s not just strung out—she’s pregnant and in premature labor. If she goes to the hospital, she’ll lose custody of her baby—maybe even go to prison. But the alternative is unthinkable.

As the weeks unfold, Lexie finds herself caring for her fragile newborn niece while her carefully ordered life is collapsing around her. She’s in danger of losing her job, and her fiancé only has so much patience for Annie’s drama. In court-ordered rehab, Annie attempts to halt her downward spiral by confronting long-buried secrets from the sisters’ childhoods, ghosts that Lexie doesn’t want to face. But will the journey heal Annie, or lead her down a darker path?

My Thoughts: Before I Let You Go was a familiar story to me, after working with dysfunctional families and addicts for a number of years. Each story has its unique journey to the horrific slide toward “nothing left to lose,” but each one is filled with the frustration of human vulnerability and failure.

The author offers a unique perspective with alternating narratives: Lexie’s voice in the first person, revealing the family history and how her own life has gone off the rails because of her sister’s addiction, followed by Annie’s journal entries. The horror of her stepfather’s abuse reveals much about Annie’s need to sever ties with family and regain control of her life, but whenever she faced challenges, she sought escape through drug abuse, sinking further into the pit.

After the baby’s birth, she faced criminal charges, since the state’s laws demanded this outcome…unless she could complete a rehab program. Lexie stepped in to provide “kinship” care of the baby, who had suffered withdrawal from drugs after the birth. As a doctor, with her fiance Sam who is also a physician, the future looks promising for this temporary family.

Would Annie finally reach sobriety? Would Lexie be able to let go of her own feeling of responsibility for Annie’s outcomes?

A familiar and tragic tale that tugged at my heartstrings, even as I felt Lexie’s frustrations. I wanted to tell Annie that she needed to open up with the whole truth of her past life and what led her down that dark road…but, like Lexie, we had to let go of our own sense of responsibility for the outcomes. Urging Annie on would not be enough. Sadness follows these characters, but I felt hopeful for Lexie and the baby. By the end, I needed tissues to deal with the tearful finality of Annie’s choices. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE OTHER MOTHER, BY CAROL GOODMAN

 

When Daphne Marist and her infant daughter, Chloe, pull up the gravel drive to the home of Daphne’s new employer, it feels like they’ve entered a whole new world. Tucked in the Catskills, the stone mansion looks like something out of a fairy tale, its lush landscaping hiding the view of the mental asylum just beyond its border. Daphne secured the live-in position using an assumed name and fake credentials, telling no one that she’s on the run from a controlling husband who has threatened to take her daughter away.

Daphne’s new life is a far cry from the one she had in Westchester where, just months before, she and her husband welcomed little Chloe. From the start, Daphne tries to be a good mother, but she’s plagued by dark moods and intrusive thoughts that convince her she’s capable of harming her own daughter. When Daphne is diagnosed with Postpartum Mood Disorder, her downward spiral feels unstoppable—until she meets Laurel Hobbes.

Laurel, who also has a daughter named Chloe, is everything Daphne isn’t: charismatic, sophisticated, fearless. They immediately form an intense friendship, revealing secrets to one another they thought they’d never share. Soon, they start to look alike, dress alike, and talk alike, their lives mirroring one another in strange and disturbing ways. But Daphne realizes only too late that being friends with Laurel will come at a very shocking price—one that will ultimately lead her to that towering mansion in the Catskills where terrifying, long-hidden truths will finally be revealed….

 

My Thoughts: A surreal story, The Other Mother taps into our worst fears: that somehow we will be controlled by others and our lives will no longer be our own.

Husbands with nefarious plans and doctors who are easily turned by others kept me turning pages and wondering if I, too, had been tricked and controlled by this very tale.

I wanted to root for all the female characters, as each, in some way, had a story that felt credible. So which story will we believe?

Just when I thought I couldn’t be more confused, pieces of the puzzle began to click into place. Suddenly everything made a kind of sense, and the twisted elements took us back in time, to the early 1970s…and then carried us forward to the present. Who would finally regain the life that belonged to her? And who has died, while others have lived to share the truth? 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: PAPER GHOSTS, BY JULIA HEABERLIN

 

An obsessive young woman has been waiting half her life—since she was twelve years old—for this moment. She has planned. Researched. Trained. Imagined every scenario. Now she is almost certain the man who kidnapped and murdered her sister sits in the passenger seat beside her.

Carl Louis Feldman is a documentary photographer who may or may not have dementia—and may or may not be a serial killer. The young woman claims to be his long-lost daughter. He doesn’t believe her. He claims no memory of murdering girls across Texas, in a string of places where he shot eerie pictures. She doesn’t believe him.

Determined to find the truth, she lures him out of a halfway house and proposes a dangerous idea: a ten-day road trip, just the two of them, to examine cold cases linked to his haunting photographs.

 

My Thoughts: From the beginning of Paper Ghosts, I thought of Grace’s plan as a journey that would surely end badly.

Carl’s behavior, the way he talked, the sense that something was very creepy and off about him…these aspects of him hovered overhead all the way through this story.

I was fascinated by Grace’s bold plan and how she was constantly changing her identity and her look, trying to fly beneath the radar. If anyone had known about her plan, other than those who helped her create her various personas, they would certainly have advised against it.

Grace thought she was in control, but it didn’t take long to see how Carl manipulated and controlled so many things, specifically the “conditions” he kept laying down for her. As if his cooperation was something she could earn with the lists of things he wanted from her.

Could Grace find the answers she was seeking? Would she manage to stay safe and alive until the road trip had ended? And what if everything turned out in unexpected ways that she didn’t see coming? A fascinating study that lagged for me sometimes, but heightened to an intensity near the end that kept me turning pages. 4.5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: A NANTUCKET WEDDING, BY NANCY THAYER

 

A few years after losing her beloved husband, Alison is doing something she never thought she would do again: getting married. While placing the finishing touches on her summer nuptials, Alison is anxious to introduce her fiancé, David, to her grown daughters: Felicity, a worried married mother of two, and Jane, also married but focused on her career. The sisters have a somewhat distant relationship and Alison hopes that the wedding and the weeks leading up to the ceremony will give the siblings a chance to reconnect, as well as meet and get to know David’s grown children.

As the summer progresses, it is anything but smooth sailing. Felicity stumbles upon a terrible secret that could shatter her carefully cultivated world. Jane finds herself under the spell of her soon-to-be stepbrother, Ethan, who is as charming as he is mysterious. And even Alison is surprised (and slightly alarmed) by her new blended family. Revelations, intrigue, resentments—as the Big Day approaches, will the promise of bliss be a bust?

My Thoughts: In her inimitable style, Thayer takes the reader to a lovely setting in A Nantucket Wedding. At the moment of the union between this fascinating couple, she also brings us right into the family, with all the issues that come along when the joining of two brings about a blending of assorted personalities, each with their own expectations and conflicts.

David Gladstone, a wealthy man, is about to step back from his business, but when his petulant daughter Poppy asserts herself about the business and his personal assets, he and Alison have to very tactfully, yet assertively, set some boundaries. Additionally, David’s handsome son Ethan presents numerous challenges as he flirts outrageously with whatever woman strikes his fancy.

Meanwhile, Alison’s daughters are dealing with issues within their marriages, bringing to light some concerns that might jeopardize those unions.

Can a wedding in a beautiful setting help them all face and deal with these issues? Will the upcoming nuptials remind them of their own romantic unions, or will those very beautiful moments only emphasize their jarring differences?

I loved the book, the setting, and how the author revealed those true-to-life conflicts that all families have at times.

I enjoyed Alison’s efforts at nurturing and peace-making. I also liked watching Jane and Scott figure out how they could solve their own problems going forward.

I did not like Noah, Felicity’s husband, who revealed himself to be smug and offensive with those who did not share his moral high ground regarding the environment, and then turned on a dime when someone offered what he wanted.

Could any or all of them come out of the romantic event with their families intact? Would the event itself be a reminder of what they all could learn to love about one another? 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: GO ASK FANNIE, BY ELISABETH HYDE

 

When Murray Blaire invites his three grown children to his New Hampshire farm for a few days, he makes it clear he expects them to keep things pleasant. The rest of his agenda–using Ruth and George to convince their younger sister, Lizzie, to break up with her much older boyfriend–that he chooses to keep private. But Ruth and George arrive bickering, with old scores to settle. And, in a classic Blaire move, Lizzie derails everything when she turns up late, cradling a damaged family cookbook, and talking about possible criminal charges against her.

This is not the first time the Blaire family has been thrown into chaos. In fact, that cookbook, an old edition of Fannie Farmer, is the last remaining artifact from a time when they were a family of six, not four, with a father running for Congress and a mother building a private life of her own. The now -obscured notes written in its pages provide tantalizing clues to their mother’s ambitions and the mysterious choices she once made, choices her children have always sought without success to understand. Until this weekend.

As the Blaire siblings piece together their mother’s story, they come to realize not just what they’ve lost, but how they can find their way back to each other. In this way, celebrated author Elisabeth Hyde reminds readers that family survival isn’t about simply setting aside old rivalries, but preserving the love that’s written between the lines.

 

My Thoughts: From the very first page of Go Ask Fannie, the reader is offered a peek into the squabbles between two adult siblings who are on their way to their dad’s home in New Hampshire.

Ruth, the eldest, an attorney who lives in Washington, D.C., is full of criticism and advice, trying to immediately take control of the situation. George, who is a nurse, gives back his point of view, too, but he shows a bit more empathy. The two are fighting about what should happen to their father, Murray, who is 81 and so far maintaining his independence.

Upon arrival, the third sibling enters the picture, with her own battles to fight. Her much older boyfriend has ruined the family’s Fannie Farmer cookbook, the one legacy they have from their mother, Lillian, who had died thirty-two years ago, along with their brother Daniel.

Between the lines, we learn more about the family dynamics as the author shows us what those interactions look like, while the multiple narrators take us back and forth in time. By the end of the story, we have a clearer picture of the family’s secrets, the untold wishes and dreams, and the mistaken beliefs they each held.

A story with distinct characters one could easily love and hate at the same time, this one offered us a glimpse of what life could look like if each of them shared these hidden truths. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SOMETIMES I LIE, BY ALICE FEENEY

 

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

My Thoughts: Sometimes I Lie grabbed me from the beginning, as the narrator takes us from the current moments, in which she is hospitalized and in a coma, to a week before. In between these narratives, we read diary entries from the early 1990s.

I thought I knew who was writing in those diaries, but the truth was not revealed until almost the end.

Even the identity of our primary narrator was turned upside down, and as we approached the conclusion, some things started clearing up in my mind. Suddenly I felt completely gobsmacked, as I flipped from one reality to another. Throughout, I couldn’t decide just who to trust…and I wondered if I could trust any of the characters.

By the end, I kept holding my breath, waiting for the final reveal that would clarify everything. But the waters remained muddy enough, and even on the final page, I had to keep asking myself “what just happened?” A story that kept me pondering its twists and turns. 5 stars.

 ***

REVIEW: OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES, BY ABBI WAXMAN

 

At any given moment in other people’s houses, you can find…repressed hopes and dreams…moments of unexpected joy…someone making love on the floor to a man who is most definitely not her husband…

As the longtime local carpool mom, Frances Bloom is sometimes an unwilling witness to her neighbors’ private lives. She knows her cousin is hiding her desire for another baby from her spouse, Bill Horton’s wife is mysteriously missing, and now this…

After the shock of seeing Anne Porter in all her extramarital glory, Frances vows to stay in her own lane. But that’s a notion easier said than done when Anne’s husband throws her out a couple of days later. The repercussions of the affair reverberate through the four carpool families–and Frances finds herself navigating a moral minefield that could make or break a marriage.

My Thoughts: In this bold peek behind closed doors, Other People’s Houses reveals the flaws, the foibles, and the moral failings in an LA area neighborhood.

Frances Bloom is the main voice, although we are offered multiple narrators. She is the good mom, the patient one who carpools all the neighborhood kids. But is she truly good, or is she making up for her own failings?

Anne Porter’s faux pas turns the neighborhood from a cozy little enclave to a clash of temperaments and values within the other houses, as each of them has to figure out whose side they’re on.

I liked how the kids were not cardboard versions but were fleshed out in a way that allowed us to connect with them. Ava, the fourteen-year-old, was not just an annoying, eye-rolling caricature, but had ideas of her own that showed her developing personhood. She could also be helpful and thoughtful, just like a real girl who has grown up with structure and love, finding her own true self.

As more and more of the closely guarded secrets are revealed, I especially loved the dialogue, the banter, and even the sometimes coarse language that left me feeling as if these were people I knew. An irreverent, hilarious, and often sad tale of how life can go so wrong, this book also showed us characters who pulled themselves together despite their problems. They were an example for the others, just like real people can be leaders of the pack. In the final moments, after the crises within some of the families settled down, there was a Christmas get-together. I liked this quote: “The neighborhood would be together again, in all its imperfect, fractured, embarrassing glory.” 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE BAD DAUGHTER, BY JOY FIELDING

 

There was no shortage of words she could use to describe her father, almost none of them complimentary. Serves you damn right, she thought.

A voice mail from her estranged sister, Melanie, sends Robin’s heart racing and her mind spiraling in a full-blown panic attack. Melanie’s message is dire: Their father, his second wife, and his twelve-year-old stepdaughter have been shot—likely in a home invasion—and lie in the hospital in critical condition.

It’s been more than five years since Robin turned her back on her father when he married her best friend. Five years since she said goodbye to her hometown of Red Bluff, California, and became a therapist. More than two years since Robin and Melanie have spoken. Yet even with all that distance and time and acrimony, the past is always with Robin.

Now she must return to the family she left behind. As she attempts to mend fences while her father clings to life, Robin begins to wonder if there is more to the tragedy than a botched burglary attempt. It seems that everyone—Robin’s mercurial sister, her less-than-communicative nephew, her absent brother, and even Tara, her father’s wife—has something to hide. And someone may have put them all in grave danger.

 

My Thoughts: There is no better story than one created by Joy Fielding, in my opinion, and The Bad Daughter is no exception. From the beginning, I found myself rapidly turning pages, staying up late to read more, and then enjoying every surprise twist and turn until the very end.

The characters felt so real, and I had emotional reactions to them all. I couldn’t stand Melanie, Robin’s older sister, whose sarcasm seemed to come from a very bad place. But did she have good reasons for her behavior?

I wasn’t sure about Robin’s fiancé Blake, either, but I gradually came to see a different side to him.

Then there was Melanie’s autistic son Landon, who, at eighteen, had all the usual behaviors associated with his disorder…but there was also something about him that aroused discomfort. Was he keeping secrets?

The victims in the shooting all had plenty of bad qualities, except for the twelve year old victim Cassidy, who seemed like a sweet innocent. But was there more to her story? Robin was drawn to her, but often had a feeling of “what’s wrong with this picture?”

Until the riveting and surprising conclusion, I went back and forth about which character must be pegged as “the bad daughter,” but when the final reveal came, it all made sense. I loved everything about the story and it earned 5 stars from me.

***