REVIEW: MY (NOT SO) PERFECT LIFE, BY SOPHIE KINSELLA

 

Everywhere Katie Brenner looks, someone else is living the life she longs for, particularly her boss, Demeter Farlowe. Demeter is brilliant and creative, lives with her perfect family in a posh townhouse, and wears the coolest clothes. Katie’s life, meanwhile, is a daily struggle—from her dismal rental to her oddball flatmates to the tense office politics she’s trying to negotiate. No wonder Katie takes refuge in not-quite-true Instagram posts, especially as she’s desperate to make her dad proud.

Then, just as she’s finding her feet—not to mention a possible new romance—the worst happens. Demeter fires Katie. Shattered but determined to stay positive, Katie retreats to her family’s farm in Somerset to help them set up a vacation business. London has never seemed so far away—until Demeter unexpectedly turns up as a guest. Secrets are spilled and relationships rejiggered, and as the stakes for Katie’s future get higher, she must question her own assumptions about what makes for a truly meaningful life.

 

My Thoughts: There is something about the characters in My (Not So) Perfect Life that captured me from the start. They felt so real, and I enjoyed their flaws and frailties. Katie, aka Cat, is determined to have the life she has always wanted, living in London. Furthermore, she wants the perfect life she imagines that her boss Demeter is living. Demeter has flaws, of course; she is abrupt and a bit tactless. Additionally, she always seems to forget people’s names, a character flaw that heightens the resentment Cat is starting to feel.

After she is fired, Cat returns to the country and becomes Katie again. But she has learned about branding and graphics and puts her skills to work in the Glamping resort that her father and stepmother are creating on the farm. Katie begins to feel that special something you get when your talents are being utilized.

Then Demeter comes to spend a holiday at the farm, not knowing who Katie is, with her “old” name and the changes she has made in her appearance. Hiding in plain sight, Katie has the opportunity to see her former boss with a new perspective, and without their former roles.

Something was happening back at the company that had turned Demeter into who she had become…and now something is about to happen in front of Katie. Can she get to the bottom of the strange events? Will Katie help the woman she saw as a bully? Will she realize that there is more to Demeter than the gilded existence she had imagined her living? Could they have more in common than either believed possible?

A story about looking beyond the facades and realizing that everybody has difficulties and nobody is perfect, this one kept me intrigued throughout. 5 stars.

***

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REVIEW: PERSONS UNKNOWN, BY SUSIE STEINER

Detective Manon Bradshaw is five months pregnant and has officially given up on finding romantic love. Instead, she is in hot pursuit of work-life balance and parked in a cold case corridor—the price she’s had to pay for a transfer back to Cambridgeshire. This is fine, she tells herself. She can devote herself to bringing up her two children: her adopted twelve-year-old son, Fly Dent, and the new baby. Fly needed a fresh start—he was always being stopped and searched in London by officers who couldn’t see past the color of his skin. Manon feared that Fly, increasingly sullen and adolescent, was getting in with the wrong crowd at school, or that possibly he was the wrong crowd. Being home by five, for the sake of her children, is what Manon tells herself she needs.

Yet when a wealthy businessman is found stabbed close to police headquarters, Manon can’t help but sidle in on the briefing: The victim is a banker from London, worth millions. More dramatically, he was once in a relationship with Manon’s sister, Ellie, and is the father of Ellie’s toddler son.

The case begins to circle in on Manon’s home and her family. She finds herself pitted against the colleagues she once held dear: Davy Walker and Harriet Harper.

My Thoughts: I loved connecting with Manon Bradshaw in the author’s previous novel, “Missing, Presumed.” What I enjoy about her most is how we are privy to her personal life, with all of its flaws and foibles, and we are granted a glimpse of her thoughts as she struggles through the challenges she faces. Living in a house with her sister Ellie and Ellie’s son Solomon, we can sense from the beginning that something is not right. Ellie’s abruptness, her paranoia about her privacy, and the secrets she is holding close put me on high alert. What we do not find out until later is how much Ellie has done to protect her own turf, no matter how her actions will impact those around her.

I felt frustrated by the rush to judgment of the police with regard to the murder of Jon-Oliver, who is Solly’s father. Someone in the police management team has pushed for the arrest of 12-year-old Fly. Why are the hasty judgments not investigated properly?

Manon is locked out of the investigation because Fly is her adopted son, but she manages to work her way into parts of the investigation via Fly’s attorney, Mark Talbot.

Davy Walker, who worked closely with Manon before Fly’s involvement in the case, is doggedly pursuing other angles, once his gut tells him that something is off.

Narrated by Manon, Davy, and a few other individuals, Persons Unknown begins to unfold slowly, and we soon see the crucial connections that will help solve the case. While one piece remains uncovered, we feel much of the satisfaction due us in a mystery with characters we love. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING, BY KATHRYN CROFT

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When Tara Logan wakes up naked in a strange bed, and then realizes that there is a man in bed with her, she panics. For the man is her neighbor Lee Jacobs, and he is dead. Stabbed with a knife. And she has no memory of what, if anything, went on between her and Lee. Plus, there is not a drop of blood on her.

Thus begins the twisted tale that only gets more complex as time goes by. First, Tara decides to say nothing, hoping that the police will find whoever killed Lee. For she is sure that she didn’t. Not because she knows what happened, because she doesn’t.

While You Were Sleeping, set in and around London, is the kind of story full of characters you can suspect. It might have been Lee’s wife Serena. They had been having trouble.

Or perhaps it could have been Tara and Noah’s daughter Rosie, who has been behaving oddly. Even more so than usual, and she finally “confessed” that Lee had been hitting on her, but denied that anything had happened. However, when someone lies as much as Rosie does, it’s hard to believe anything she says. Then, from one moment to the next, Rosie’s story changes. She is also very horrible to her mother most of the time, so it would be easy to believe she had done something this despicable.

At one point, Mikey, a coworker of Tara’s, appears to be stalking her, and pushing for a relationship. He claims to have damaging information he could give the police. Could he know more because he was the actual killer?

Meanwhile, something has happened to Tara’s sister Lisa; she shows up covered with bruises. She comes to stay with Tara for a while for her own protection, and helps with Rosie, with whom she has a good relationship. Tara is grateful for the support of her sister.

Just when you think you have it all figured out, though, the stunning reveal knocks you over, and you think: Wow! I didn’t see that coming. But then again, isn’t it always the least likely suspect?

So many twists and turns and unlikeable characters, any one of whom could be guilty of something. At the very least, everyone was telling lies, keeping secrets, or hiding the truth. Trying to sort it all out and figure out the truth was enough to keep me glued to the pages. All of which made it a 5 star read.

cropped-again-5***

REVIEW: SUMMER SECRETS, BY JANE GREEN

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Our story begins in London, in 2014, with our MC Cat pondering her life: the choices she has made, the numerous mistakes, and the events that have led to her newfound serenity. She is a journalist; she is divorced, with a thirteen year old daughter, Annie; and her ex-husband Jason was the love of her life. But somehow she has made peace with what she has lost.

Flashbacks and fast forwards take us through Cat’s journey, and we soon learn about her addiction to alcohol, her numerous relapses, and how she finally bottomed out.

Nantucket is featured prominently in Summer Secrets, and as we connect with Cat’s mother Audrey’s story, we discover the very first big secret that defines their lives and informs what will come after.

Will Cat’s discovery of her mother’s secret change her life? Or will it lend itself to further disaster when she, too, visits Nantucket in 1998. What happens to finally alter Cat’s trajectory in life, and how will everything settle down for her? What will happen between Cat and her new-found half-sister Julia that will cause a rift that will last for years?

I loved settling into this story and feeling a connection to Cat. The descriptions of her drinking experiences echo some of mine, even though my journey did not lead to addiction. But hard partying was a common theme in the sixties and seventies, when I was young. I also loved the settings of London and Nantucket, even though I have never visited either place, except in books and movies. The author made me feel as if I were there.

As the story fast forwards to 2014 again, we see Cat returning to Nantucket to make amends…and when she believes that the past is truly behind her, she is stunned by an unexpected turn of events. How can she go on now, and what will ultimately bring about a resolution for her?

I loved this book and must give it five stars. Fans of Jane Green should enjoy this one.

REVIEW: THURSDAY’S CHILDREN, BY NICCI FRENCH

20812083Can anyone ever go home again?

For Frieda Klein, therapist and woman managing in her solo existence in London, thoughts of the home she left behind in Braxton twenty-three years before have now intruded upon her, as she faces the young teenage girl, the daughter of an old school acquaintance from Braxton, who has confided a horrific secret. Something that arouses all of Frieda’s worst memories.

Young Becky has told about her rape a few months before, and how her mother, Maddie, did not believe her. Now Maddie is aware that Frieda knows the secret, and this only enrages her. Her feelings of intense dislike and fear are brought to the fore. For Frieda, the long-buried rage aroused in her by the release of this secret is like a strong gravitational pull into the past. Something Becky said to Frieda reawakened that long ago moment when she herself had been raped at sixteen, and reminded her of her own mother’s disbelief.

Can the past be repeating itself? Then, as if to ante up the stakes, Becky is found hanged in her room, presumably suicide. But the more Frieda learns, upon her return to Braxton, the more she is convinced that the man who raped her also raped Becky…and others in between. And that he has also killed.

Thursday’s Children is the story of the past, the present, and how the secrets come back to haunt us. The title also symbolizes the name of a musical group playing in Braxton on the night of Frieda’s rape. Can Frieda discover who has been raping and murdering young girls, and if she does, will the police even believe her? Her experiences with the police in this town have been less than satisfactory.

But she has her own occasional colleague, DCI Malcolm Karlsson…and seemingly the shadowy stalker presence of presumed dead Dean Reeve, that nobody believes is there–except, perhaps, Karlsson–and as time passes, her belief in his malevolent/protective presence is reinforced by events.

This fourth novel in the series is also populated by familiar faces from the previous novels, like Josef, the handyman and occasional cook; Reuben, a therapist colleague; and her niece Chloe. For the first time, we meet her mother, Dr. Juliet Klein, who is a hard, ironic, and cold presence in Frieda’s past, and with whom she now must interact. Will the ghosts of the past finally be put to rest? Will the secrets be unleashed and the perpetrators punished? And, in the end, will Frieda find peace?  Five stars.