REVIEW: FORGET YOU KNOW ME, BY JESSICA STRAWSER

 

Molly and Liza have always been enviably close. Even after Molly married Daniel, the couple considered Liza an honorary family member. But after Liza moved away, things grew more strained than anyone wanted to admit―in the friendship and the marriage.

When Daniel goes away on business, Molly and Liza plan to reconnect with a nice long video chat after the kids are in bed. But then Molly leaves the room to check on a crying child.

What Liza sees next will change everything.

Only one thing is certain: Molly needs her. Liza drives all night to be at Molly’s side―but when she arrives, the reception is icy, leaving Liza baffled and hurt. She knows there’s no denying what she saw.

Or is there?

In disbelief that their friendship could really be over, Liza is unaware she’s about to have a near miss of her own.

And Molly, refusing to deal with what’s happened, won’t turn to Daniel, either.

But none of them can go on pretending. Not after this.

My Thoughts: The twists and turns of Forget You Know Me kept me fully engaged throughout, although it would take a while to sort out events. To figure out what, if anything, was left of the relationships between friends and between husband and wife.

Alternating narratives take us through the story, and I couldn’t help but be more drawn to Liza and her situation. Her friend Molly, who had done something truly confusing on the strange night of the video chat, seemed flaky and a little unreliable. What was really going on with her, and would she confess to her old friend, or even her husband, about what was happening?

Many events felt a little too unbelievable, but I did keep reading, because I was curious and wanted to know the meaning of it all. There were explanations by the characters at the end, leaving me with some hope for them all. 4 stars.


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

***

 

REVIEW: THE HOUSEKEEPER, BY SUELLEN DAINTY

When Anne Morgan’s successful boyfriend—who also happens to be her boss—leaves her for another woman, Anne finds herself in desperate need of a new job and a quiet place to recover. Meanwhile, her celebrity idol, Emma Helmsley (England’s answer to Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey), is in need of a housekeeper, an opportunity which seems too good to be true.

Through her books, website, and blog, Emma Helmsley advises her devoted followers on how to live a balanced life in a hectic world. Her husband, Rob, is a high profile academic, and her children, Jake and Lily, are well-adjusted teenagers. On the surface, they are the perfect family. But Anne soon finds herself intimately ensconced in the Helmsley’s dirty laundry, both literally and figuratively. Underneath the dust, grime, and whimsical clutter, everyone has a secret to hide. And Anne’s own disturbing past soon threatens to unhinge everything…

MY THOUGHTS:
In the beginning, The Housekeeper seemed to be a book about one young woman’s love gone wrong, and how she found a way to start over as a domestic helper for a famous blogger and her psychologist husband.

But soon we are swept up into a gradual process of enmeshment, as the Helmsley family come to expect more and more from Anne, while making it seem as though they are doing her a favor by making her feel like family. But Anne does not notice the subtle expectations, since she admires Emma and Rob and the life they have created, and being a part of it all feels so good.

When Anne has some memory flashes, it seems natural that she would ask her boss, the psychologist, for his opinions. What will happen next? Will the horrors of her childhood change everything about the life she has recreated?

I was blown away by how the story played out, and could not stop reading it. I was furious with Emma and Rob, and how they played on Anne’s need for family. They seemingly brought her into the cozy circle that was developing between them, when, in fact, they were using her to carry out the façade of the perfect family/professional couple. She did a good job of glossing over their imperfections by keeping their lives running smoothly, and what they gave her in return was betrayal.

Skillfully wrought, the story aroused emotions, kept me engaged, and left me with much more to think about. In the end, there was a sense of closure that I didn’t see coming, and it felt good. A 5 star read for me.

***

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.

ratings-worms-4-cropped***

REVIEW: THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR, BY SHARI LAPENA

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In upstate New York, new parents Marco and Anne Conti are enjoying an evening next door with neighbors Graham and Cynthia Stillwell. Actually, Marco seems to be enjoying himself flirting with Cynthia, while Anne feels troubled while she watches.

They were supposed to have a babysitter, but at 6:00 p.m., the girl cancelled. It would have made sense to take the baby along to the dinner party next door, but Cynthia has insisted that it should be an adults only party.

Later, she would say that she would have been fine with the baby there, if she’d known about the cancelled sitter.

But who knows what any of them would have done? Why were Cynthia and Graham so adamant about having an “adults only” party? Why is there a secret camera trained on the backyard?

When baby Cora disappears, sometime after Marco last checked on her—they’ve been checking every half hour—their world turns upside down. They only discover that she is missing when they return home around 1:30 a.m.

Police, reporters, and public scrutiny follow them in the upcoming weeks, and there is plenty of suspicion from everyone.

Anne’s postpartum depression becomes an issue…and then there are Marco’s financial difficulties. When Anne’s wealthy parents offer a large reward to the kidnapper, if the baby is returned, the suspicions increase as one can only wonder who actually took the baby.

What secrets from the past cast a shadow on every character? What will the police discover about Marco, about Anne, and about Cynthia? Does Anne’s strangely cold stepfather Richard have something to hide?

Behind every twist and turn is another possible scenario, until the reader must second-guess everyone and everything. The Couple Next Door kept me thoroughly engaged throughout. And then, when all the pieces seemed to fit, another shocker seemed to come out of nowhere. Until I thought about it, and realized that it all made sense.  Rating:

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***My copy of the eARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE CHILDREN, BY ANN LEARY

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Lakeside Cottage in Harwich, Connecticut, had been a part of the Whitman family for generations. Whit Whitman, whom we met early on in The Children, when he was just a child, would figure largely in the story, but primarily as a legendary character. His marriage to Joan, who had two young daughters, Sally and Charlotte, would launch a whole new blended family that included Whit’s sons from his marriage to Marissa: Perry and Philip (Spin).

His death would set events in motion and unleash issues that would stay buried for years, but in one long hot summer, all would surface with a vengeance. Could the division of trusts and the cottage figure into the trouble? Whit had left Lakeside Cottage to his sons, a trust fund to Joan, as well as to his sons, with the understanding that Joan would stay in the cottage as long as she wished to do so. But maybe everything wasn’t as smoothly settled as they thought.

Our first person narrator is Charlotte, who some believe is agoraphobic, but she simply feels more comfortable in the cottage attic room writing her “fictitious” mommy blog. She makes quite a bit of money from advertisers, and all is well on that front…until it isn’t.

The first ripples of trouble appear when Spin brings his fiancée Laurel Atwood home to the cottage. She seems wonderful on the surface. Charming, in fact, and clearly she is beautiful. But Sally, who has some mental health issues, can seemingly see below the surface. Why does nobody believe her? But who would believe Sally when she “gets like that”? Frenetic and manic, she escalates quickly.

I loved this story. I wanted to stay with the characters well beyond the final pages, and I held my breath while experiencing the story as it unfolded, only releasing my breath when I finally learned the fate of the characters. A 5 star read for me.

*** My e-ARC was received from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: AFTER SHE’S GONE, BY LISA JACKSON

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On a movie set in Portland, Oregon, Director Dean Arnette is closing in on the final moments, the final scenes. Then the unexpected happens. A gun is fired. The body double is shot, and all hell breaks loose.

Two months later, Cassie Kramer has checked herself into the psychiatric wing of Mercy Hospital, where she struggles with what seem like hallucinations and blackouts. And to deal with the disappearance of her sister Allie, who was the star of the movie Dead Heat, and whose failure to appear on the day of the last filming had led to her double being shot.

Had someone targeted Allie? Was the shooting an accident, or had someone purposely changed the blanks for real bullets?

Police are all over the situation, beginning with the shooting of Lucinda Rinaldi, who survived, and focusing also on Allie’s disappearance. Had someone abducted her, or was she missing as some kind of publicity stunt?

After She’s Gone delves into the lives of a Hollywood family: Jenna Hughes, mother, and her two daughters, Cassie and Allie. Since Allie has become the star, the rivalry between the two of them has caused some to think Cassie may have done something to her sister. The family had also suffered terrifying events in the past when a stalker targeted them…so now Jenna and her husband Shane have relocated to Falls Crossing, Oregon.

Determined to find her sister and clear her own name, Cassie has checked into Mercy Hospital’s psychiatric unit, worried that her occasional blackouts might mean that she knows more than she realizes.

After leaving the hospital, Cassie flies back and forth between LA and Portland, trying to find answers, and knowing that there is something suspicious about almost everyone who knew her sister. Her behavior, while understandable, seemed frenetic and illogical at times.

Then there are the secrets that surfaced as the story came to a close. Secrets that finally revealed who has targeted the family…and why. The novel was a page turner that moved at a fast pace, although there were so many red herrings and characters to wonder about that sometimes it was hard to keep everything straight. As the final denouement approached, there were some last minute misdirections that kept me guessing until the last pages. 4 stars.

REVIEW: BETRAYED, BY LISA SCOTTOLINE

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In the Philadelphia law firm of Rosato and DiNunzio, Judy Carrier is an associate, and as such, must often take cases that are unappealing to her.

Such an assignment has just landed in the form of seventy-five asbestos cases referred from a big New York firm…and her job will be to defend the damages portion.

Before she is caught up in the cases, Judy and one of the partners, Mary DiNunzio, who is her best friend, have been shopping for wedding dresses for Mary’s upcoming wedding. But then Judy is called to her Aunt Barb’s house after learning sad news: her aunt has cancer and is going in for surgery. Plus, her mother Delia is at Aunt Barb’s, and their somewhat rocky relationship is about to come front and center in her life.

The cases go on the back burner so Judy can focus on her aunt, but then a friend of Barb’s dies under mysterious circumstances…after which a number of very strange happenings find Judy investigating and searching for answers.

How did more than $50,000 in cash end up hidden around Barb’s house? What is going on at the mushroom farm where Iris, the deceased friend, worked? And what happened to Iris’s friend Daniella?

Later, when there is another mysterious death, Judy finds herself up to her eyeballs in the mystery…and at the same time, she discovers a secret that her mother has been hiding.

Meanwhile, she decides that her boyfriend Frank, who acts more like a boy than a man, and focuses mostly on watching football on TV and playing sports instead of doing chores around the apartment, is really not a good match for her.

In the end, answers came swiftly and brought a satisfying conclusion to Betrayed: A Rosato & DiNunzio Novel (Rosato & Associates Book 13), one in a series of mysteries involving the women at the law firm. I have read and enjoyed several of the books in this series, each one featuring a different woman as the MC. I loved the fast pace, and how the author brought the reader right into the personal and work lives of the characters. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: A FIREPROOF HOME FOR THE BRIDE, BY AMY SCHEIBE

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The time: the 1950s; the setting: small Midwestern towns in Minnesota and North Dakota.

Emmeline Nelson is our main character, and almost from the very first moments, I could feel for her plight. Controlling family, a husband already picked out for her, and all the options closed.

I have lived some of that life, except for the specific husband picked out.

But another point where mine and Emmeline’s differ is that under the surface of the world she had known were secrets, betrayals, hatred, and racism. Deep, dark racism.

Turning the pages of A Fireproof Home for the Bride: A Novel, I could not wait to see what would happen next, even as I wanted to throw things and shout at some of the characters, like Ambrose Brann, the fiancé, who showed his dark side almost immediately.

What would Emmy have to do to extricate herself from the strictures of the life planned out for her? Who would help her, and what would be the consequences? And how would the forbidden love of Bobby Doyle change her life, and would he be the one? How did the KKK figure into the lives of those closest to Emmy, and what did Ambrose have to do with it? How did the string of fires connect to the past and to the dark future planned by a nefarious group?

As Emmy struggles to find her place in the world as a writer for the newspaper, the answers will come to her.

I really enjoyed her Great Aunt Josephine, who was the kind of woman that would inspire a young girl like Emmy. And in the end, Christian, her father, turned out to be a sympathetic character, and the detached mother Karin had her own painful past. But the surprising rush of more unexpected connections would bring this intriguing story to a satisfactory close. 4.0 stars, primarily because some of the prose felt stilted to me; the story behind it was very captivating, however.