REVIEW: AN ANONYMOUS GIRL, BY GREER HENDRICKS & SARAH PEKKANEN

 

Seeking women ages 18–32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.

When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave.

Question #1: Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?

But as the questions grow more and more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding.

Question #2: Have you ever deeply hurt someone you care about?

As Jess’s paranoia grows, it becomes clear that she can no longer trust what in her life is real, and what is one of Dr. Shields’ manipulative experiments. Caught in a web of deceit and jealousy, Jess quickly learns that some obsessions can be deadly.

Question #3: Should a punishment always fit the crime?

From the authors of the blockbuster bestseller The Wife Between Us comes an electrifying new novel about doubt, passion, and just how much you can trust someone.

 

My Thoughts: Caught up immediately in the events of An Anonymous Girl, I was intrigued…and then concerned for Jessica’s ultimate fate. A New York makeup artist, Jessica is struggling financially, and is often exhausted from work. She lives in a tiny studio apartment with her dog Leo.

She also feels guilty about her parents’ financial circumstances because of something that happened years before. The money from the study could help.

Our story is told by alternating narrators, with someone who appears anonymous as one of them, but that person clearly seems to be directing Jessica’s life. And soon the director is obsessed with everything Jessica does, and, in fact, seems to know everything she is doing and keeps ahead of her along the way.

As the intensity increases, my concern for Jessica grows exponentially. Who, if anyone, can she trust? What events will lead her to the edge and change her life forever?

I was addicted to finding out, while cheering for Jessica. Would she escape from the clutches of her “director,” or would she fail?

A beautifully crafted tale with lots of red flags and a cautionary undercurrent, I could not put it down. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

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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: BEFORE THE STORM, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

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Laurel and Jamie fell in love serendipitously, almost as if the events that brought them together were fated. An accident between her car and his motorcycle, but with no injuries. But they both knew right away that they were destined to be together.

When Laurel got pregnant, they got married, and everything was perfect. Until after their daughter Maggie was born. Laurel’s depression and how she felt nothing for the baby might have started when she and the baby were separated shortly after the birth due to her hemorrhaging…but what continued afterwards could only have been an undiagnosed case of Postpartum Depression. Soon Laurel and Jamie were living separate lives, with Jamie and Maggie staying with their friends Steve and Sara.

Meanwhile, Laurel slept and drank a lot, and turned for comfort from Jamie’s brother Marcus, who lived next door. What was set in motion soon escalated, and then an unexpected pregnancy catapulted them all into a storm of emotions, secrets, and lies.

Before the Storm was set on Topsail Island in North Carolina, and the Lockwood family, to which Jamie and Marcus belonged, was wealthy and privileged, but their family dynamics left much to be desired. Jamie was the “perfect” son and Marcus, the bad boy.

What subsequent events would forever change the landscape of their lives? How did Laurel’s drinking during her pregnancy result in her son Andy’s disabilities? And how would those very problems turn into tragedy during one summer when he was just fifteen years old? A church fire, pointed fingers, and a series of misunderstandings would lead to more complications. Would the truth ever come out?

Multiple narrators told the story: Laurel, Marcus, Maggie, and Andy, and each character’s voice was distinctive. The story flashed back to the past and then forward to the present; the mystery of what happened during that summer night would keep this reader guessing until almost the end…and then the reveal would be stunning. 4.5 stars.

A MOTHER’S HEART-WRENCHING & GUTSY TALE — A REVIEW

From the first frank opening lines, I knew that Cadence’s story would be heart-wrenching, gutsy, and totally honest.

Her beginning confession of her greatest “sin,” being drunk in front of her child, told me that we were about to commence a journey that could only get more painful, but would also yield the unique wisdom that comes from coping with something horrendous, and yet living to tell about it.

We can see that being an alcoholic is difficult and challenging enough, but being an alcoholic mother can often result in the whispers, condemnation, and exclusion of other mothers. Almost as if the woman suffers from leprosy, or some other contemptible disease. Perhaps such a mother is at the wrong end of that continuum society often places women along—from Madonna to Whore—and there is no coming back from such a label.

Or is there? Perhaps in telling the story, other women who experience the same pain and the same journey will not feel quite so alone.

The author brings us Cadence’s story from her first-person point of view, which allows the reader to truly experience the journey along with the narrator. It begins as a love story, when Cadence and her husband Martin meet: it leads us to the birth of Charlie, along with those early difficulties in parenting. And we see Martin, as he turns almost totally toward his career and away from Charlie and Cadence. Until finally the marriage falls apart.

It is in the second year after the divorce that Cadence turns more and more to the bottle to help her cope. A struggling freelance writer, she has to manage parenting and writing at home, with all the distractions inherent in those roles.

As I read about how Cadence “bottoms out,” with Martin taking her child away and suing for custody; and then as I watch her struggle to address her disease and begin recovery, even as she faces the outcome of the courts deciding whether or not she will be the primary custodial parent, I could not help but rapidly turn those pages. I immediately connected with Cadence, and felt an almost appalling enmity for Martin and his judgmental mother Alice. I knew I was “taking sides,” but sometimes that happens in stories that really grab me.

Waiting for the final outcome would be excruciatingly painful. I knew it. But I kept going. I loved this excerpt toward the end of Best Kept Secret: A Novel, when Cadence “does battle” with an array of unopened wine bottles, trying to decide her next step:

“When the wine is gone and my tears are finally spent, I look through the kitchen window into my backyard. The sky is the royal hazy blue of impending day. The storm clouds have passed, leaving a faint netting of stars to adorn the sky. I swallow to calm the nerves that jiggle in my throat. I will find a way to get on with things. I’ll gather up my black, fluttering scraps of guilt and resentment and pain and somehow knit them together into a way to survive. And though I’m afraid, though shame claws at the gates of my mind, I walk over to the table and I reach for the phone.”

Moments like these throughout this story had me clutching my throat with empathy, while other lines brought laughter, joy, and even a gasp of recognition. A powerful and emotional read, I highly recommend it to anyone who has ever struggled with anything challenging. And survived.

Five stars.

***

I won this book from Great Thoughts.