REVIEW: THE OTHER WOMAN, BY SANDIE JONES

 

HE LOVES YOU: Adam adores Emily. Emily thinks Adam’s perfect, the man she thought she’d never meet.

BUT SHE LOVES YOU NOT: Lurking in the shadows is a rival, a woman who shares a deep bond with the man she loves.

AND SHE’LL STOP AT NOTHING: Emily chose Adam, but she didn’t choose his mother Pammie.

There’s nothing a mother wouldn’t do for her son, and now Emily is about to find out just how far Pammie will go to get what she wants: Emily gone forever.

My Thoughts: The Other Woman was a book that captured my interest right away, as I watched the unfolding power struggle between our narrator, Emily, and Pammie, the mother of her fiancé. To others, Pammie was sweet, so Emily could find no allies in her quest to get the upper hand.

Her own mother colluded with Pammie in setting up the “hen do,” when an unexpected and unwelcome guest appeared. But Emily hadn’t shared her thoughts and feelings about Pammie with her mother, not wanting her to worry. What? That was one of her biggest mistakes.

Then there was Adam, almost as annoying as Pammie, always running to his mother’s side and never supporting Emily as she tried to stay afloat.

James, Adam’s brother, seemed supportive, but then he made the moves on her.

What was happening in this Twilight Zone of a family? What has Emily discovered about her predecessor, who died suddenly one day? What are the secrets behind this tragedy?

As I kept turning pages, I wanted Emily to stand up and say “no more!” But she didn’t. She kept forgiving and offering second, third chances…until the final twist had me stunned and saying “no way!”

I had whiplash by then, but something felt wrong and too easy about this ending. After expecting a whole different kind of denouement, I felt a little…let down. It seemed almost unbelievable, which dropped this book down to 3.5 stars for me.

***
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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: 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 FAMILY NEXT DOOR, BY SALLY HEPWORTH

 

Small, perfect towns often hold the deepest secrets.

From the outside, Essie’s life looks idyllic: a loving husband, a beautiful house in a good neighborhood, and a nearby mother who dotes on her grandchildren. But few of Essie’s friends know her secret shame: that in a moment of maternal despair, she once walked away from her newborn, asleep in her carriage in a park. Disaster was avoided and Essie got better, but she still fears what lurks inside her, even as her daughter gets older and she has a second baby.

When a new woman named Isabelle moves in next door to Essie, she is an immediate object of curiosity in the neighborhood. Why single, when everyone else is married with children? Why renting, when everyone else owns? What mysterious job does she have? And why is she so fascinated with Essie? As the two women grow closer and Essie’s friends voice their disapproval, it starts to become clear that Isabelle’s choice of neighborhood was no accident. And that her presence threatens to bring shocking secrets to light.

My Thoughts: In the quiet Melbourne neighborhood, there are expectations about how people should interact with one another. There are get-togethers, there is a civility between them that is somewhat superficial, but then there is a neighborhood watch to make them feel safe.

As we gradually come to know each of the characters, there are hints of their secrets, and we are not quite sure how much we will learn. Which of the families has the most to hide? Why did Isabelle, a single woman, move onto Pleasant Court? We sense something is not right with her. She seems almost too enmeshed in their lives. What could she be hiding?

Alternating narrators tell the story in The Family Next Door, and occasionally an unidentified narrator is experiencing something horrific: a stillbirth, anxiety, and then confusion.

We learn about some of Fran’s secrets, and why she runs several times a day, almost like an addict.

Ange needs to present the perfect front…she is the realtor, after all. She “sells” the life you want to lead. But her seemingly perfect husband Lucas has layers of secrets.

Then there is Barbara, the perfect grandmother, but something is not right there, either.

As the revelations start coming to light, especially one totally unexpected one, we see that a missing piece of the puzzle has just clicked into place. 4.5 stars.


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

REVIEW: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, BY MAGGIE O’FARRELL

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Daniel Sullivan, a linguistics professor, is at a place in his life that calls for reviewing past actions and contemplating where he wants to go next.

The story begins in 2010, in Donegal, Ireland, where Daniel is living with his wife Claudette and their two children: Marithe, 6, and the baby, Calvin. Claudette has an older child named Ari, from a relationship years before with a man who directed her in films.

Claudette was a well-known film star who decided to escape that life, and now tries to stay out of sight, a recluse, in this remote Irish home, with twelve gates to maneuver in order to get in or out. She also wears a strange combination of layered outfits, a disguise of sorts.

When Daniel decides to go to his father’s 90th birthday party in Brooklyn, of course Claudette stays behind. She doesn’t leave the house very often, but when she does, she goes to Paris, where her mother lives. The mother that hates Daniel.

This Must Be the Place is a layered tale of one man’s journey, his relationships, his mistakes, and how he is trying to correct some of them. The story takes us back to the places where Daniel has lived and to the relationships he has left behind. He reconnects with his two older children, Niall and Phoebe, living in LA. Their mother did everything in her power—and succeeded—in keeping him from these children, even though he tried repeatedly to enforce the custody order that she ignored. A bitter vengeful woman, we don’t see her in the book, except through the eyes of others. I liked watching their reunion, and how he tried to explain his absence, while they, especially Phoebe, showed him very little understanding. Until finally he seemed to have broken down the barriers.

Sometimes the back and forth sweep through time gave me a feeling of whiplash; just as I would be settling into the current story, I would find myself catapulted back to the 1980s or 1990s. While adding these pieces and tidbits to the overall journey was important, I would have appreciated a smoother transition. But perhaps we are meant to be startled and jolted, just as Daniel himself experiences the pain of his search into the past, and his effort to bring meaning to his present life.

Occasionally the author spins us into the future, showing us what will happen to some of the characters. I especially disliked these forward thrusts, as I would then feel worried about the sad things that lay ahead for someone I had come to love.

Overall, I enjoyed Daniel’s journey, and the ups and downs of his relationship with Claudette, and how we are left wondering if they will find their way back together after the worst of their separations. Until the very last page, I did wonder. A satisfying read that could have been a bit less meandering, but despite the convoluted journey, here is my happy rating:

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REVIEW: THE CHILDREN’S CRUSADE, BY ANN PACKER

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Spanning more than fifty years, The Children’s Crusade: A Novel is the story of a family.

It began with Bill Blair and his dreams for the land he bought in Portola Valley, in 1954. He met a woman named Penny. They married, and together they produced four children and built up their home. He became a pediatrician and his work became primary for him.

The dynamics of the family begin to show on one day when the four children were young; we witness Penny unraveling as she prepares for a party. There is nothing happy about Penny, and the sense of doom that hovers for the next few years will tell us more about her. She complains constantly about Bill not being there to “help.”

Meanwhile, the children are already assuming their roles, with Robert, as the eldest, and the one who sees himself as the leader. Rebecca, a little younger, is very maternal with the younger siblings, Ryan and James. At age three, we can already sense that James is out of control, and that his mother is constantly frustrated with him.

Fast forward over the years: in adulthood, Robert and Rebecca are both doctors, but Rebecca’s choice to become a psychiatrist is her way of extending the role she assumed in the family. Ryan is a teacher and very artistic. And James seems to be a lost soul.

Forward and backward we go, filling in the blanks of what led them all to the people they became. The troubles, the rivalries, and how Penny distanced herself from the family early on to pursue her “art.” Bill reveals his role as the nurturing parent and counsels the children through some of their troubles.

Individual chapters are devoted to each one’s perspective, and as we see each character from all sides, we come to understand them a lot more.

What events will thoroughly test the family bonds? How will the siblings solve some of their most crucial issues? How will the house become the centerpiece for their bonds, and what will ultimately happen to it? How will James’s visit with his mother in Taos, NM, relieve him of an old grievance?

The “crusade” that the children dreamed up to help their mother connect to them was never carried out, but it seemed like a recurring theme, in that later on, they all mentioned how their father had a crusade of his own. Children were his life: his own children, and those he helped heal as a doctor.

The writing style was interesting, in that we got to see them all as children…and then grown, and saw how they resolved some of their issues. Sometimes I got a little bogged down, but I enjoyed it overall. Recommended for those who enjoy family sagas, and don’t mind family dysfunction. 4.0 stars.