REVIEW: THE BOOKISH LIFE OF NINA HILL, BY ABBI WAXMAN

 

The only child of a single mother, Nina has her life just as she wants it: a job in a bookstore, a kick-butt trivia team, a world-class planner and a cat named Phil. If she sometimes suspects there might be more to life than reading, she just shrugs and picks up a new book.

When the father Nina never knew existed suddenly dies, leaving behind innumerable sisters, brothers, nieces, and nephews, Nina is horrified. They all live close by! They’re all—or mostly all—excited to meet her! She’ll have to Speak. To. Strangers. It’s a disaster! And as if that wasn’t enough, Tom, her trivia nemesis, has turned out to be cute, funny, and deeply interested in getting to know her. Doesn’t he realize what a terrible idea that is?

Nina considers her options.

1. Completely change her name and appearance. (Too drastic, plus she likes her hair.)
2. Flee to a deserted island. (Hard pass, see: coffee).
3. Hide in a corner of her apartment and rock back and forth. (Already doing it.)

It’s time for Nina to come out of her comfortable shell, but she isn’t convinced real life could ever live up to fiction. It’s going to take a brand-new family, a persistent suitor, and the combined effects of ice cream and trivia to make her turn her own fresh page.

My Thoughts: Nina Hill is one of the quirkiest and most adorable characters I have met in a while. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill opens with some bookstore scenes, and we are soon thoroughly immersed in her daily life. From the books she loves and her precise schedule of daily plans, we learn how her single life comforts her, even though she occasionally thinks about dating and/or being in a relationship.

What she hadn’t counted on, though, was discovering the existence of her unknown father and the numerous siblings, aunts, brothers, nieces, and nephews. How could someone like Nina adapt to this new normal?

Watching her do just that kept me thoroughly absorbed throughout, and by the end, with all the unexpected detours her life has taken, we are happily a part of her world, too. And just when Nina has reconciled herself to her bookish and somewhat loner existence, she discovers spontaneity and love for her life. 5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: WE ARE ALL GOOD PEOPLE HERE, BY SUSAN REBECCA WHITE

 

Eve Whalen, privileged child of an old-money Atlanta family, meets Daniella Gold in the fall of 1962, on their first day at Belmont College. Paired as roommates, the two become fast friends. Daniella, raised in Georgetown by a Jewish father and a Methodist mother, has always felt caught between two worlds. But at Belmont, her bond with Eve allows her to finally experience a sense of belonging. That is, until the girls’ expanding awareness of the South’s systematic injustice forces them to question everything they thought they knew about the world and their places in it.

Eve veers toward radicalism—a choice pragmatic Daniella cannot fathom. After a tragedy, Eve returns to Daniella for help in beginning anew, hoping to shed her past. But the past isn’t so easily buried, as Daniella and Eve discover when their daughters are endangered by secrets meant to stay hidden.

Spanning more than thirty years of American history, from the twilight of Kennedy’s Camelot to the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency, We Are All Good People Here is “a captivating…meaningful, resonant story” (Emily Giffin, author of All We Ever Wanted) about two flawed but well-meaning women clinging to a lifelong friendship that is tested by the rushing waters of history and their own good intentions.

 

 

My Thoughts: We Are All Good People Here begins in a college setting in the early 1960s. Two girls from very different families meet there; join in the activities, including sorority rushes; and gradually form the values that will carry them forward in their lives. The changes in their lives come from what is happening in the world around them.

Daniella was the steadier of the two, in my opinion, while Eve flipped from her entitled upbringing to the radical causes she would follow for years, long after the college days had ended.

Civil rights, Vietnam war protesting, and sometimes outrageous behavior would characterize Eve’s life, although Daniella did take time to help the voter registration cause in Mississippi one summer.

Our tale spans decades, taking us along to their adult relationships and experiences, including the rearing of their daughters. Seeing how the mothers’ values impacted their daughters was interesting to me.

Touching on historical moments for the country revealed what these characters were experiencing over the years. An intriguing journey that earned 4.5 stars from me.

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

REVIEW: KEEPING LUCY, BY T. GREENWOOD

 

Dover, Massachusetts, 1969. Ginny Richardson’s heart was torn open when her baby girl, Lucy, born with Down Syndrome, was taken from her. Under pressure from his powerful family, her husband, Ab, sent Lucy away to Willowridge, a special school for the “feeble-minded.” Ab tried to convince Ginny it was for the best. That they should grieve for their daughter as though she were dead. That they should try to move on.

But two years later, when Ginny’s best friend, Marsha, shows her a series of articles exposing Willowridge as a hell-on-earth–its squalid hallways filled with neglected children–she knows she can’t leave her daughter there. With Ginny’s six-year-old son in tow, Ginny and Marsha drive to the school to see Lucy for themselves. What they find sets their course on a heart-racing journey across state lines—turning Ginny into a fugitive.

For the first time, Ginny must test her own strength and face the world head-on as she fights Ab and his domineering father for the right to keep Lucy. Racing from Massachusetts to the beaches of Atlantic City, through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia to a roadside mermaid show in Florida, Keeping Lucy is a searing portrait of just how far a mother’s love can take her.

My Thoughts: Set in the 1960s and 70s, in a time when attitudes toward special needs were uninformed and harsh, a young mother suffers a great loss at the hands of her own husband and father-in-law.

Striving to accept the loss of her daughter, Ginny tries to cope. But the news of the scandalous neglect at the supposedly “best place” for her daughter took her on a journey to discover the truth and take a stand with the powerful men in her family.

Throughout Keeping Lucy, I rooted for Ginny and Lucy, and wanted to shout for joy at each step forward that she took. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE BETTER SISTER, BY ALAFAIR BURKE

 

Though Chloe was the younger of the two Taylor sisters, she always seemed to be the one in charge. She was the honor roll student with big dreams and an even bigger work ethic. Nicky—always restless and more than a little reckless—was the opposite of her ambitious little sister. She floated from job to job and man to man and stayed close to home in Cleveland.

For a while, it seemed that both sisters had found happiness. Chloe earned a scholarship to an Ivy League school and moved to New York City, where she landed a coveted publishing job. Nicky married promising young attorney Adam Macintosh and gave birth to a baby boy they named Ethan. The Taylor sisters became virtual strangers.

Now, more than fifteen years later, their lives are drastically different—and Chloe is married to Adam. When he’s murdered by an intruder at the couple’s East Hampton beach house, Chloe reluctantly allows her teenage stepson’s biological mother—her estranged sister, Nicky—back into her life. But when the police begin to treat Ethan as a suspect in his father’s death, the two sisters are forced to unite . . . and to confront the truth behind family secrets they have tried to bury in the past.

 

My Thoughts: I was caught up in the family story of The Better Sister, wondering what secrets would be unveiled after Adam’s murder. Was Ethan guilty, or was some other family member or friend responsible for the murder?
I liked how the author portrayed the court room scenes, and also how we slowly began to see the deceptions that kept the sisters apart, not trusting each other. When the sisters began to come together in their efforts to protect Ethan, we finally learned the hidden truths. A page turner that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: STONE MOTHERS, BY ERIN KELLY

 

You can’t keep the secret.
You can’t tell the truth.
You can’t escape the past…Marianne was seventeen when she fled her home in Nusstead—leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, Jesse, and the body they buried. Now, thirty years later, forced to return to in order to help care for her sick mother, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never for-gave her for leaving in the first place, is finally threatening to expose the truth.

Marianne will do anything to protect the life she’s built, the husband and daughter who must never know what happened all those years ago. Even if it means turning to her worst enemy for help… But Marianne may not know the whole story—and she isn’t the only one with secrets they’d kill to keep.

My Thoughts: Stone Mothers begins with present day Marianne, who is struggling to overcome her fears of past events, along with the dark secrets she has hidden for many years.

Her husband Sam has just bought a second home in the worst place possible. A place that has kept her nightmares alive over the years.

How will the people and places of that time stay hidden? What will she do to outrun the darkness?

Our story flashes back to the beginning and reveals how it all unfolded. We learn what happened between Jesse, Marianne, and Helen…and then we are offered a peek into Helen’s history, which changes how we see her.

Issues of mental health treatment and how the antiquated systems derailed the lives of many kept me glued to the pages. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: EMILY, GONE, BY BETTE LEE CROSBY

 

 

1971:  When a music festival rolls through the sleepy town of Hesterville, Georgia, the Dixon family’s lives are forever changed. On the final night, a storm muffles the sound of the blaring music, and Rachel tucks her baby into bed before falling into a deep sleep. So deep, she doesn’t hear the kitchen door opening. When she and her husband wake up in the morning, the crib is empty. Emily is gone.

Vicki Robart is one of the thousands at the festival, but she’s not feeling the music. She’s feeling the emptiness over the loss of her own baby several months before. When she leaves the festival and is faced with an opportunity to fill that void, she is driven to an act of desperation that will forever bind the lives of three women.

When the truth of what actually happened that fateful night is finally exposed, shattering the lives they’ve built, will they be able to pick up the pieces to put their families back together again?

My Thoughts: Emily, Gone, was a gripping tale of loss that kept this reader on the edge of my seat. We follow the lives of the parents whose child has been kidnapped alongside the alternating narrative of the broken characters whose actions have brought such tragedy, and we come to feel compassion for each of them.

The story is one that could conclude any number of ways, but until the very end, you’re not sure what will happen to the characters. Could there be a satisfying ending, or will the pain be continuous?

I did like how the intricate pathways almost crossed several times along the way, and then in a somewhat serendipitous coming together of events, everything falls into place. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THOSE PEOPLE, BY LOUISE CANDLISH

 

Lowland Way is the suburban dream. The houses are beautiful, the neighbors get along, and the kids play together on weekends.

But when Darren and Jodie move into the house on the corner, they donʼt follow the rules. They blast music at all hours, begin an unsightly renovation, and run a used-car business from their yard. It doesn’t take long for an all-out war to start brewing.

Then, early one Saturday, a horrific death shocks the street. As police search for witnesses, accusations start flying—and everyone has something to hide.

My Thoughts: Who hasn’t lived in a neighborhood with annoying people at one time or another? Noise pollution, cars everywhere, and rude attitudes make what was once a lovely suburb a place to abhor.

As each resident tries to fight the encroaching madness, police officers congregate, and strangely enough, do not seem to put a stop to the events.

Those People took the reader down a twisted pathway, and just when you wondered what would happen next, you would be stunned.

While I couldn’t stop reading, wanting to find out what would happen, I did not enjoy these characters and I was happy to put them all behind me. 4 stars.

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

REVIEW: I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BY ALICE FEENEY

 

Meet Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can’t remember where from.
Except one person.

Someone knows Aimee very well.

They know who she is and they know what she did.

When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right, she is—but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

My Thoughts: From the beginning moments of I Know Who You Are, we follow Aimee Sinclair’s journey, wondering what secrets she is hiding…and what really happened to Ben.

Our narrative takes us back and forth in time, with Aimee as a kidnapped child whose caretaker is both cruel and kind, a crazy-making pattern of behavior that sets up a lifetime of anxieties.

I liked the pace that kept me turning pages and wondering what would happen next. For example, who is Maggie O’Neil really? What brought her into Aimee’s orbit, and why is she working so hard to ruin her? Does she have an accomplice? What do events in the past have to do with the terror in Aimee’s life now? A creepy, yet engaging read that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SUNSET BEACH, BY MARY KAY ANDREWS

 

Drue Campbell’s life is adrift. Out of a job and down on her luck, life doesn’t seem to be getting any better when her estranged father, Brice Campbell, a flamboyant personal injury attorney, shows up at her mother’s funeral after a twenty-year absence. Worse, he’s remarried—to Drue’s eighth grade frenemy, Wendy, now his office manager. And they’re offering her a job.

It seems like the job from hell, but the offer is sweetened by the news of her inheritance—her grandparents’ beach bungalow in the sleepy town of Sunset Beach, a charming but storm-damaged eyesore now surrounded by waterfront McMansions.

With no other prospects, Drue begrudgingly joins the firm, spending her days screening out the grifters whose phone calls flood the law office. Working with Wendy is no picnic either. But when a suspicious death at an exclusive beach resort nearby exposes possible corruption at her father’s firm, she goes from unwilling cubicle rat to unwitting investigator, and is drawn into a case that may—or may not—involve her father. With an office romance building, a decades-old missing persons case re-opened, and a cottage in rehab, one thing is for sure at Sunset Beach: there’s a storm on the horizon.

 

My Thoughts: Sunset Beach takes the reader right into the setting, amongst a cast of interesting characters. Drue was my favorite, and her father’s wife Wendy was someone I loved to hate. The two had been friends as children, and then were not. Now, as her father’s newest wife, she is also the office manager, in a position to order Drue around with big yellow “SEE ME” post-it notes showing up frequently.

Coworkers Jonah and Ben brought unexpected flavor, especially as the twists in the story took us behind the scenes in some legal cases, with Drue following the clues to solving a murder.

An alternating timeline from the 70s revealed secrets from the past, and how the present day characters were connected to a mysterious disappearance.

I also loved seeing Drue’s joy at fixing up her grandparents’ old cottage, which she had inherited. Lovely memories brought out the sense of family and sentimental moments.

I liked how the story swept back and forth in time, culminating in some unexpected answers to some piercing questions. I couldn’t wait to keep turning the pages of this great 5 star read full of family, friends, loss, and mysteries.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: NEVER TELL, BY LISA GARDNER

 

A man is dead, shot three times in his home office. But his computer has been shot twelve times, and when the cops arrive, his pregnant wife is holding the gun.

D.D. Warren arrives on the scene and recognizes the woman–Evie Carter–from a case many years back. Evie’s father was killed in a shooting that was ruled an accident. But for D.D., two coincidental murders is too many.

Flora Dane sees the murder of Conrad Carter on the TV news and immediately knows his face. She remembers a night when she was still a victim–a hostage–and her captor knew this man. Overcome with guilt that she never tracked him down, Flora is now determined to learn the truth of Conrad’s murder.

But D.D. and Flora are about to discover that in this case the truth is a devilishly elusive thing. As layer by layer they peel away the half-truths and outright lies, they wonder: How many secrets can one family have?

My Thoughts: Never Tell offers another look into the world of Flora Dane and D.D. Warren, continuing in the aftermath of Flora’s captivity by Jacob Ness, a horrific monster, and trying to piece together any other connections to perpetrators who are still out there.

How could Conrad Carter be part of Jacob Ness’s world of evil? If Flora recalls meeting him while she was held by Ness, what, if anything, had brought them together? Could Conrad’s death have been a murder committed by someone else in that world?

Evie’s perspective, along with the alternating narrators, help us examine how she might have been involved in Conrad’s death, or at the very least, how she might have been covering up his secrets. D.D., Flora, and FBI Agent Quincy meet to examine the various aspects of the current murder with the hope of finding answers.

As always, I enjoyed the alternating viewpoints that swept between the past and the present, while each character tried to sort through how each event connected so intricately with various crimes in the past. A brilliant 5 star read.

***