REVIEW: PERFECT LITTLE CHILDREN, BY SOPHIE HANNAH

All Beth has to do is drive her son to his soccer game, watch him play, and then return home. Just because she knows her ex-best friend lives near the field, that doesn’t mean she has to drive past her house and try to catch a glimpse of her.

Why would Beth do that and risk dredging up painful memories? She hasn’t seen Flora for twelve years. She doesn’t want to see her today—or ever again. But she can’t resist. She parks outside the open gates of Newnham House, watches from across the road as Flora arrives and calls to her children Thomas and Emily to get out of the car.

Except . . . There’s something terribly wrong. Flora looks the same, only older. Twelve years ago, Thomas and Emily were five and three years old. Today, they look precisely as they did then. They are Thomas and Emily without a doubt, but they haven’t changed at all. They are no taller, no older. Why haven’t they grown? How is it possible that they haven’t grown up?

From the very first page of Perfect Little Children, I knew that I was in for a treat. A convoluted one, of course, the kind of story that the author does best. It didn’t take long for me to connect with our narrator, Beth, and to applaud her efforts to find answers. At every turn of the journey, she offered us glimpses of what might happen next and how she would keep pushing until the truth was exposed.

Her husband Dom was less intrigued by the confusing elements Beth found in the stories she was told by Flora, by characters who seemed to be stand-in parents for the younger versions of Thomas and Emily…and yes, there were many others who added pieces to the tale. So Beth would have to face the scrutiny of others who believed she was obsessive and had no business interrogating everyone she met. I admired how she would risk everything to make her discoveries. Lest I give away too many clues or spoilers, I will only say that the journey to the truth was worth every step we took. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: SOMETIMES I LIE, BY ALICE FEENEY

 

My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:
1. I’m in a coma.
2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie.

Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can’t move. She can’t speak. She can’t open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn’t remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from twenty years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it’s the truth?

My Thoughts: Sometimes I Lie grabbed me from the beginning, as the narrator takes us from the current moments, in which she is hospitalized and in a coma, to a week before. In between these narratives, we read diary entries from the early 1990s.

I thought I knew who was writing in those diaries, but the truth was not revealed until almost the end.

Even the identity of our primary narrator was turned upside down, and as we approached the conclusion, some things started clearing up in my mind. Suddenly I felt completely gobsmacked, as I flipped from one reality to another. Throughout, I couldn’t decide just who to trust…and I wondered if I could trust any of the characters.

By the end, I kept holding my breath, waiting for the final reveal that would clarify everything. But the waters remained muddy enough, and even on the final page, I had to keep asking myself “what just happened?” A story that kept me pondering its twists and turns. 5 stars.

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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.

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REVIEW: BEHIND HER EYES, BY SARAH PINBOROUGH

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Louise is a single mom, a secretary, stuck in a modern-day rut. On a rare night out, she meets a man in a bar and sparks fly. Though he leaves after they kiss, she’s thrilled she finally connected with someone.

When Louise arrives at work on Monday, she meets her new boss, David. The man from the bar. The very married man from the bar…who says the kiss was a terrible mistake, but who still can’t keep his eyes off Louise.

And then Louise bumps into Adele, who’s new to town and in need of a friend. But she also just happens to be married to David. And if you think you know where this story is going, think again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

David and Adele look like the picture-perfect husband and wife. But then why is David so controlling? And why is Adele so scared of him?

As Louise is drawn into David and Adele’s orbit, she uncovers more puzzling questions than answers. The only thing that is crystal clear is that something in this marriage is very, very wrong. But Louise can’t guess how wrong―and how far a person might go to protect their marriage’s secrets.

In Behind Her Eyes, Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern day love triangle and not only turns it on its head, but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling.

My Thoughts: The story begins in a predictable kind of way—single mom meets handsome stranger in a bar—and then discovers who that man is when she shows up for work.

But nothing else about Behind Her Eyes follows the normal routes in a story. Alternating narratives by Louise, the single woman, and Adele, David’s wife, take us back and forth in the present…and then all the way back into the “then” of Adele’s life, with her friend Rob.

Early on, we realize that Adele knows more than she is sharing with her new friend Louise, and we suspect that she is playing a very dangerous game. But it will take a while to accept the extent to which Adele will go…and not until the very end will we know who was really calling the shots.

What are the secrets David and Adele are keeping? What does Rob have to do with the dream world that is being shared with Louise? How will a paranormal twist change everything?

Without introducing “spoiler” information, I can only say that I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, up to a point, and even though the revelations at the end left me stunned…I was forced to suspend disbelief in a major way. This book was a case of too many “out there” experiences, which tainted my enjoyment ever so slightly. Therefore, 4 stars.

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REVIEW: IN HER WAKE, BY AMANDA JENNINGS

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From the opening lines of In Her Wake, the reader is confronted with the sadness and loss Bella Campbell Bradford has suffered in the aftermath of her mother’s death. Elaine Campbell had been a loving mother, but there was always something amiss in their lives. Elaine’s fearfulness, her unwillingness to leave the house, and the overprotectiveness that turned Bella’s childhood into a prison are only the tip of the iceberg.

Her father Henry was kind, but also distant, a trait Bella chalked up to his being a doctor.

Bella’s husband David is overly controlling, and with his tendency to always take care of everything, from what to eat and where to work, she realizes that she must take some time away alone, to sort through her thoughts. Especially after a tragedy that occurs within hours of her mother’s funeral. A letter from Henry charts her course.

She goes to the Cornish coast for answers. There she finds more than she bargained for. What happened in France twenty-five years ago, and how does a cottage in Bristol figure into the lives of the Campbell family? Who is Bella, and what other secrets and lies have made her into the person she is today?

Finding the truth beneath the lies will lead her down some frightening pathways, but in the end, she will discover more than she had ever hoped for. Knowing that she can sort through her past on her own helps her decide how to deal with David.

Along the way, the reader gets to enjoy the local characters, like Dawn Tremayne and her mum, Alice. The author showed the reader the village of St. Ives in all its colorful quirkiness, which helped ease the shocking truths that seemed to come out of nowhere…and just kept unfolding. 4.5 stars.

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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.

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REVIEW: THE SISTER, BY LOUISE JENSEN

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A story about secrets, lies, and a friendship bond that lasts through tough times, but then is broken by death, The Sister was a page turner that kept me guessing.

Grace and Charlie met when they were very young, and after Charlie has stood up for Grace when a boy (Dan) pokes fun at her. Later, Grace, Charlie, and Dan will all become friends, and the group includes a few others. Some who stay friends, while others do not.

Set in a village in the UK, I enjoyed the back and forth sweep through time, as more and more was unveiled with each thrust backward.

What did Charlie mean when she said she had “done a bad thing”? What secrets had Lexie, her mother, kept that would impact all of their lives? What has Dan done that will ultimately derail their relationship? How has the mysterious Anna brought about the unraveling of their lives?

Grace’s narration carried us through the story, and I felt sympathy for her troubles, but I was also frustrated by her tendency to trust too easily. In the end, she flips 180 degrees to total suspicion, seeing danger behind every corner. Was she correct in her assessment of the situation?

Twists and turns kept me wondering, but the ultimate secret would endanger them all. The characters were all pretty unlikeable, beginning with Lexie, who was a mean drunk. Then there was Anna, whom I saw through right from the beginning, although I didn’t know the half of what she was hiding. Would I ever trust Dan again, after his betrayal is revealed? Probably not. But I couldn’t wait to find out what would eventually happen to them all. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: INTRUSION, BY MARY MCCLUSKEY

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Scott and Kat Hamilton are still grieving the loss of their teenage son Christopher, each in their separate ways. The closeness they once felt is slowly disappearing as the loss engulfs them.

So when an old former friend from the UK shows up as head of a company that Scott has signed as his client, Kat is stunned. But trying hard to be forgiving for Sarah Cherrington’s betrayal twenty years before.

But Kat’s sister Maggie is not so forgiving and urges Kat to be careful. However, Sarah, now the widow Harrison, is Scott’s client, so she has to try. Right?

When Sarah seemingly shows a generous side, offering support, gifts, and invitations to her gorgeous homes in Ojai and Malibu, Kat is unable to turn her away. Even though Sarah shows up repeatedly, “just for a moment,” inserting herself into their lives, her apparent generosity is hard to resist.

When Sarah offers Kat the key to her Sussex cottage, the one that has such fond memories for Kat, the alarm bells should have gone off. But they didn’t….at least not right away.

Intrusion is a chilling portrayal of a woman hell-bent on revenge, taking down all who have seemingly wronged her so many years ago. Will Kat and Scott be her latest victims?

Of course, in the blurb, we are forewarned about Sarah and her intentions, but even if we hadn’t been, I could see her manipulations and her intrusiveness from miles away. I wanted to shout at Kat to stop allowing this woman to control her, but sometimes, nothing gets through until the last possible moment. I couldn’t stop turning those pages until the very end. 5 stars.

SERENDIPITOUS TUESDAY: EXCERPTING “FIND HER”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Today’s featured book is from an author and a series I love.  Find Her, by Lisa Gardner, is a page-turning thriller with a captivating MC.

 

 

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Intro:  These are the things I didn’t know:

When you first wake up in a dark wooden box, you’ll tell yourself this isn’t happening.  You’ll push against the lid, of course.  No surprise there.  You’ll beat at the sides with your fists, pummel your heels against the bottom.    You’ll bang your head, again and again, even though it hurts.  And you’ll scream.  You’ll scream and scream and scream.  Snot will run from your nose.  Tears will stream from your eyes.  Until your screams grow rough, hiccuppy.  Then, you’ll hear sounds that are strange and sad and pathetic, and you’ll understand the box, truly get, hey, I’m trapped in a dark wooden box, when you realize those sounds come from you.

***

Teaser:  I don’t really remember, to tell you the truth.  It was like an out-of-body experience.  All this horror I had to get out of me, and the only way to do that was to talk and talk and talk. (p. 64).

***

Blurb:   Flora Dane is a victim. 

Seven years ago, carefree college student Flora was kidnapped while on spring break. For 472 days, Flora learned just how much one person can endure.

Flora Dane is a survivor.

Miraculously alive after her ordeal, Flora has spent the past five years reacquainting herself with the rhythms of normal life, working with her FBI victim advocate, Samuel Keynes. She has a mother who’s never stopped loving her, a brother who is scared of the person she’s become, and a bedroom wall covered with photos of other girls who’ve never made it home.

Flora Dane is reckless. 

. . . or is she? When Boston detective D. D. Warren is called to the scene of a crime—a dead man and the bound, naked woman who killed him—she learns that Flora has tangled with three other suspects since her return to society. Is Flora a victim or a vigilante? And with her firsthand knowledge of criminal behavior, could she hold the key to rescuing a missing college student whose abduction has rocked Boston? When Flora herself disappears, D.D. realizes a far more sinister predator is out there. One who’s determined that this time, Flora Dane will never escape. And now it is all up to D. D. Warren to find her.

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What do you think?  Would you keep reading?  I know I can’t wait to do just that.
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SERENDIPITOUS TUESDAY: “THE PASSENGER”

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Welcome to another Tuesday celebrating bookish events, from Tuesday/First Chapter/Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea; and Teaser Tuesdays hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

Today’s featured book is an e-ARC from NetGalley, to be released on 3/1/16.  The Passenger, by Lisa Lutz, is about a woman who creates and sheds new identities as she crisscrosses the country to escape her past: you’ll want to buckle up for the ride!

 

 

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Intro:  (Tanya Dubois)

When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body.  I pumped his barrel chest and blew into his purple lips.  It was the first time in years that our lips had touched and I didn’t recoil.

I gave up after ten minutes.  Frank Dubois was gone.  Lying there all peaceful and quiet, he almost looked in slumber, but Frank was noisier asleep than he was awake.  Honestly, if I had known what kind of snorer he was going to turn into, I never would have married him.  If I could do it all over again, I never would have married him even if he slept like an angel.  If I could do it all over again, there are so many things I would do differently.  But looking at Frank then, so still and not talking, I didn’t mind him so much.  It seemed like a good time to say good-bye.  I poured a shot of Frank’s special bourbon, sat down on Frank’s faux-suede La-Z-Boy, and had a drink to honor the dead.

***

Teaser:  My brain felt foggy from the cold, and I was running out of time before hypothermia would set in.  Rather than try to locate the oars and right the boat, I headed for shore. (52%).

***

Synopsis:  In case you were wondering, I didn’t do it. I didn’t have anything to do with Frank’s death. I don’t have an alibi, so you’ll have to take my word for it…

Forty-eight hours after leaving her husband’s body at the base of the stairs, Tanya Dubois cashes in her credit cards, dyes her hair brown, demands a new name from a shadowy voice over the phone, and flees town. It’s not the first time.

She meets Blue, a female bartender who recognizes the hunted look in a fugitive’s eyes and offers her a place to stay. With dwindling choices, Tanya-now-Amelia accepts. An uneasy―and dangerous―alliance is born.

It’s almost impossible to live off the grid today, but Amelia-now-Debra and Blue have the courage, the ingenuity, and the desperation, to try. Hopscotching from city to city, Debra especially is chased by a very dark secret…can she outrun her past?

With heart-stopping escapes and devious deceptions, The Passenger is an amazing psychological thriller about defining yourself while you pursue your path to survival. One thing is certain: the ride will leave you breathless.

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Does this one grab you and make you want to keep turning pages?  I know that’s how it makes me feel.  Come on by and share your thoughts.

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