REVIEW: THE STRANGER IN THE MIRROR, BY LIV CONSTANTINE

Addison’s about to get married, but she’s not looking forward to the big day. It’s not her fiancé; he’s a wonderful man. It’s because Addison doesn’t know who she really is. A few years ago, a kind driver found her bleeding next to a New Jersey highway and rescued her. While her physical wounds healed, Addison’s memory never returned. She doesn’t know her real name. Or how she ended up injured on the side of a road. Or why she can’t shake the notion that she may have done something very, very bad . . .

In a posh home in the Boston suburbs, Julian tries to figure out what happened to his loving, caring wife, Cassandra, who disappeared without a trace two years ago. She would never have left him and their seven-year-old daughter Valentina of her own free will—or would she?

 

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A story that reveals the fragility of memory, The Stranger in the Mirror offers interesting perspectives for the characters. A woman who can’t remember her past and a man who has lost his wife bring layers to these lives.

As we follow along with Addison’s story, and then when we skip over to how Julian becomes part of the picture, I had suspicions and concerns. Did anything about this scenario ring true? Or, as some of the other characters believe, is Julian pulling some trick on Addison?

I couldn’t stop turning the pages, though, as all the details of the past finally become clear. Should we believe what was happening, or should we doubt everything?

By the end of the tale, I was biting my nails, hoping that there would be happiness for somebody. A five star read.

***

REVIEW: THE TWILIGHT WIFE, BY A. J. BANNER

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Thirty-four-year-old marine biologist Kyra Winthrop remembers nothing about the diving accident that left her with a complex form of memory loss. With only brief flashes of the last few years of her life, her world has narrowed to a few close friendships on the island where she lives with her devoted husband, Jacob.

But all is not what it seems. Kyra begins to have visions—or are they memories?—of a rocky marriage, broken promises, and cryptic relationships with the island residents, whom she believes to be her friends.

As Kyra races to uncover her past, the truth becomes a terrifying nightmare.

My Thoughts: It was not difficult to see almost immediately that Jacob Winthrop was a man full of secrets. Soon it became apparent that he was keeping many things from Kyra, or was he lying? Was he keeping her in the dark to protect her, or was something more nefarious happening?

Who is Aiden to Kyra, and why does she keep seeing him in her dreams? Or is she having memories?

Why do many of the island residents seem hesitant when they talk to her? Could the fact of her memory loss be keeping them silent, or have they been kept in the dark, too?

How does an old man named Doug Ingram, whose paintings hang in the library, become an impetus to trying to fill in the gaps in her memory? How does Kyra finally discover the truth?

I raced through this book, not wanting to set it down. So many questions kept popping into my mind, and I figured out certain things right away; but realizing those answers did not spoil the story for me. The Twilight Wife kept me thoroughly engaged, while I waited to see how Kyra would figure things out. A five star read.

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REVIEW: MY REAL CHILDREN, BY JO WALTON

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Confusion. Holes in her memory. A surreal sense of two separate lives that veered from one path into two during her younger years.

Patricia Cowan remembers a few incontrovertible facts about herself. She was born in Weymouth, England, in 1926. She attended Oxford University. And at one point, she was involved with a man named Mark.

But did she marry Mark and have four children and five stillbirths? Or did she live with Bee and have two biological children and one whom Bee gave birth to, but who was also her “real” child?

In both lives, Patty (or Trish or Pat) ended up with memory issues, living alone in a home, trying to piece together the lives she had lived and the choices she had made.

My Real Children was impossible to put down, and one could feel confused before reaching the final page. But along the way, the story of each life is told in alternate chapters, from the perspective of either Trish (four children, married to Mark) or Pat (living with Bee and with two children of her own and one who was not).

The narration is a summary of life moments, skipping ahead quickly in order to bring decades of two separate lives to the reader, from the 1940s to 2015. There were many characters, but some of them left an indelible print on the lives of our narrators, either through loving kindness or condescension, as in the case of Mark. He treated Trish badly, and demanded from her all the things an old-fashioned male chauvinist would expect from a wife. It is easy to see how an alternate life with a loving partner like Bee would appeal to Trish/Pat. The children in the life of Pat and Bee were more loving as well.

Could Patricia have imagined that life as an escape from the dreary one she shared with Mark? If the “real children” were the ones she shared with Mark, she would have to accept that they were dismissive and condescending, instead of the loving, caring children from her alternate life. In the end, however, Patricia concludes that they are all her “real” children, as she loved them all, no matter how they came to be or how they treated her.

I won’t stop thinking about this story and what it reveals about the nature of choice and memory. Definitely recommended for those who enjoy a good “sliding” reality tale. 4 stars.

REVIEW: STILL ALICE, BY LISA GENOVA

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Alice Howland, a psychology professor at Harvard University, has had a remarkable career and anticipates a promising future. The mother of three adult children, she is married to John, a scientist, also employed at Harvard. She is only fifty years old when she begins having “memory” issues. She thinks she might be starting menopause, as her online search suggests some of the same symptoms she has been experiencing. But then one day, Alice gets lost while running in an area that is completely familiar to her, and the fright compels her to seek medical attention.

But when Alice goes to her doctor, and then is sent to other physicians for more tests, she soon learns that she has Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Still Alice is a compelling, emotional, and enlightening story that reveals through her perspective the deterioration that ensues in the months after her diagnosis; we begin to see the occasional lapses that turn Alice into someone who does not recognize her family, friends, or colleagues. By the time this has happened, of course, Alice has left her teaching position. The medications that seemingly halt the progress of the disease, allowing for occasional almost “normal” moments, are unable to change the grim outcome.

What I enjoyed most in this tale was how the reader can seemingly get inside Alice’s head, see life through her eyes, and feel what she is feeling.

Despite the tragedy of watching Alice lose pieces of herself over the course of the story, a core of Alice remains. Her emotions show through, reminding us that she remains. And there is a kind of triumph that her spirit is still very much present. A story that will touch anyone who can relate to family connections and the strength of those bonds. 5 stars.