REVIEW: SUNSET BEACH, BY MARY KAY ANDREWS

 

Drue Campbell’s life is adrift. Out of a job and down on her luck, life doesn’t seem to be getting any better when her estranged father, Brice Campbell, a flamboyant personal injury attorney, shows up at her mother’s funeral after a twenty-year absence. Worse, he’s remarried—to Drue’s eighth grade frenemy, Wendy, now his office manager. And they’re offering her a job.

It seems like the job from hell, but the offer is sweetened by the news of her inheritance—her grandparents’ beach bungalow in the sleepy town of Sunset Beach, a charming but storm-damaged eyesore now surrounded by waterfront McMansions.

With no other prospects, Drue begrudgingly joins the firm, spending her days screening out the grifters whose phone calls flood the law office. Working with Wendy is no picnic either. But when a suspicious death at an exclusive beach resort nearby exposes possible corruption at her father’s firm, she goes from unwilling cubicle rat to unwitting investigator, and is drawn into a case that may—or may not—involve her father. With an office romance building, a decades-old missing persons case re-opened, and a cottage in rehab, one thing is for sure at Sunset Beach: there’s a storm on the horizon.

 

My Thoughts: Sunset Beach takes the reader right into the setting, amongst a cast of interesting characters. Drue was my favorite, and her father’s wife Wendy was someone I loved to hate. The two had been friends as children, and then were not. Now, as her father’s newest wife, she is also the office manager, in a position to order Drue around with big yellow “SEE ME” post-it notes showing up frequently.

Coworkers Jonah and Ben brought unexpected flavor, especially as the twists in the story took us behind the scenes in some legal cases, with Drue following the clues to solving a murder.

An alternating timeline from the 70s revealed secrets from the past, and how the present day characters were connected to a mysterious disappearance.

I also loved seeing Drue’s joy at fixing up her grandparents’ old cottage, which she had inherited. Lovely memories brought out the sense of family and sentimental moments.

I liked how the story swept back and forth in time, culminating in some unexpected answers to some piercing questions. I couldn’t wait to keep turning the pages of this great 5 star read full of family, friends, loss, and mysteries.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: UNRAVELING OLIVER, BY LIZ NUGENT

 

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.”

So begins Liz Nugent’s astonishing debut novel—a chilling, elegantly crafted, and psychologically astute exploration of the nature of evil.

Oliver Ryan, handsome, charismatic, and successful, has long been married to his devoted wife, Alice. Together they write and illustrate award-winning children’s books; their life together one of enviable privilege and ease—until, one evening after a delightful dinner, Oliver delivers a blow to Alice that renders her unconscious, and subsequently beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath of such an unthinkable event, as Alice hovers between life and death, the couple’s friends, neighbors, and acquaintances try to understand what could have driven Oliver to commit such a horrific act. As his story unfolds, layers are peeled away to reveal a life of shame, envy, deception, and masterful manipulation.


My Thoughts: From the shocking first pages of Unraveling Oliver to the gradually unfolding multi-layered tale brought from alternating narrators, we learn how a monster was created. I could not stop turning the pages.

As much as I felt like hating Oliver, I started to see how his circumstances, starting with the way his father treated him, set him up to become a person who could do the things he did.

Understanding him did not mean liking him or even forgiving him. I felt sad for the people he mistreated, although, in the end, I could also feel some empathy for him.

Could Oliver have risen from his circumstances and created a better life? A more honest life? Definitely others have done so, despite their own horrific beginnings.

Some of the secrets that Oliver learned about himself and his origins contributed to who he became. A final secret at the end of the book, one that would fill in some blanks about his previous lover Laura, shone some light on the mysteries of this man and some moments of unexpected selflessness that were possible from him. A 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: THE WIDOW’S HOUSE, BY CAROL GOODMAN

When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation—of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.

They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.

But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is—this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate—it seems to be after Clare next…

My Thoughts: Narrated in Clare’s first person voice, The Widow’s House immediately drew me in to her life and her experience, and I was invested in her world. How she viewed her new life in the old mansion, and the people she once knew that she was seeing again became my view.

Clare had grown up in the town, on the old Jackson farm with her adopted parents, who were harsh and strict. She felt isolated and that perspective shaded everything back then. Now she is looking at the world with fresh eyes.

But when events take off at the estate, and when she overhears Jess talking on the phone to mysterious individuals, her paranoia intensifies and she is back there, on the outside looking in.

I really hated Jess from the beginning. He was charming, but then cruel. He criticized Clare and made her feel crazy. So when some strange things happened, it started to feel as though he wanted her to unravel.

Final revelations came one after the other, and most I didn’t see coming, even though nothing Jess did would have surprised me at this point.

A riveting tale in which nothing is as it seems, I was glued to the pages, reading long past a reasonable hour. 5 stars.

***