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.

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REVIEW: THE THINGS WE WISH WERE TRUE, BY MARYBETH MAYHEW WHALEN

 

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A hot summer day in Sycamore Glen, North Carolina, drew adults and children alike to the community pool, where they would chat with old friends, make new ones, and enjoy what seemed like the beginning of a perfect summer.

What looked like a perfect community at first glance was, like any neighborhood, imperfect, and while those who lived there all looked like nice people, some were more so than others. And most of them had secrets, old and new, that they worked hard to hide.

The Things We Wish Were True is an unveiling, in a sense, with our alternating narrators sharing the ordinary and superficial tidbits of life in Sycamore Glen, while gradually revealing just enough of the secrets they are holding…until finally, everything is unleashed.

Cailey is the first narrator, and she and her brother Cutter are new residents, drawn to the pool to keep boredom at bay, while their mother, Lisa, works hard to keep them fed and clothed. She is trying to ignore those who might steer clear of them because of their house, the “eyesore” of the neighborhood that has been home to a series of renters.

Zell Boyette, an older woman with an empty nest, takes the neighbor children to the pool while their single father, Lance Bryson, works. Zell feels a certain degree of guilt about why Debra, the wife and mother, left the family home a few months ago. But her lips are sealed.

Bryte, mother of three-year-old Christopher, and wife to the love of her life, Everett, holds tight to what she has…fearful that she could lose it at any moment.

Because her secret could lead to a great loss.

Especially once she realizes that Jencey Cabot is back in town with her two children, Pilar and Zara, and she could easily whisk Everett away…as she was his first love.

I loved the mix of characters with secrets, and I tried to guess them as I read along…but some were easier to guess than others.

At the dark end of the secrets was a big one right across the street from Zell’s cozy little house. Who would open the door on that one? Would any of the characters lose everything by the end? Could their secrets destroy them? And what near tragedy would start the spool unreeling, thus opening the door for revelations? A delightful book that I could not stop reading, I’m definitely recommending this for everyone who loves family stories and neighborhoods that seem too perfect. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: FRACTURED, BY CATHERINE MCKENZIE

 

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Best-selling author Julie Apple (Prentice), who wrote The Murder Game, moves with her family from Tacoma to Cincinnati after a stalker seemingly upends her life.

Her husband, Daniel, and their twins, Sam and Melissa, soon seem to settle into their new lives, and Julie works each day on a second book.

Fractured opens with a scene entitled “Today, 6 a.m.”, and we watch as John Dunbar, Julie’s neighbor, ponders events that have transpired. He is clearly in the middle of something troubling, something tragic that has happened in the recent past. Something involving legal action.

From then on, the non-linear story is told, alternating between Julie and John, and moving forward from “a year ago.” Bits and pieces of events are brought out over this time period, and we soon realize who, among the characters living on Pine Street, could be suspects in the tragedy that occurred; a tragedy that we only find out about eventually.

Right away, I really hated one of the characters. Cindy Sutton, a control freak who seems to set the rules for the neighbors, and eventually starts a website that encourages them to spy on one another, seems hell-bent on judging everyone. She cloaks her actions in terms of “safety,” but the “check-ins” on the site pinpoint what everyone else is doing and where. This site seems to feed into the harassment that begins against Julie…again.

Hanna, John’s wife, was another character I couldn’t warm up to…she seemed all too willing to believe neighbors like Cindy, who distrust Julie. John’s friendship with Julie is another issue between them.

Then there is Chris, John and Hanna’s teenage son, who is sneaking around with Ashley, Cindy’s daughter. Ashley was another teen I didn’t like, probably because she also seems untrustworthy.

With neighbors like these, how can Julie settle in and become part of the seemingly cozy surroundings? How did the behavior of Cindy, Hanna, Chris, and Ashley…among others, contribute to the tragic events that unfolded?

A suspenseful tale that kept me glued to the pages until the very end, the story also generated all the emotions you might experience if these events were happening to people you know. When the final reveal was brought forth, I knew that none of the characters would be the same again. And neither would the readers of this book. 5 stars.

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