REVIEW: THE OTHER GIRL, BY ERICA SPINDLER

 

Officer Miranda Rader of the Harmony, Louisiana PD is known for her honesty, integrity, and steady hand in a crisis—but that wasn’t always so. Miranda comes from the town of Jasper, a place about the size of a good spit on a hot day, and her side of the tracks was the wrong one. She’s worked hard to earn the respect of her coworkers and the community.

When Miranda and her partner are called to investigate the murder of one of the town’s most beloved college professors, they’re unprepared for the brutality of the scene. This murder is unlike any they’ve ever investigated, and just when Miranda thinks she’s seen the worst of it, she finds a piece of evidence that chills her to the core: a faded newspaper clipping about that terrible night fifteen years ago. The night she’d buried, along with her past and the girl she’d been back then. Until now that grave had stayed sealed…except for those times, in the deepest part of the night, when the nightmares came: of a crime no one believed happened and the screams of the girl they believed didn’t exist.

Then another man turns up dead, this one a retired cop. Not just any cop—the one who took her statement that night. Two murders, two very different men, two killings that on the surface had nothing in common—except Miranda.

My Thoughts: From the opening pages of The Other Girl, the reader is wrapped up in a tantalizing tale that will reveal itself in all its complexities as it sweeps back and forth in time. From 2002, when Miranda Rader was a girl called Randi, a girl desperately needing help, but who was not believed because of her history, we find out about a traumatic experience. One that changes her life.

In the present, she has been a good cop with integrity. But suddenly everything is changing, and the Chief who had believed in her is suddenly distrustful…and doing inexplicable things. Is he on the take? Who is he protecting? Even her partner Jake is seemingly there for her…and then not. Who can she trust?

I couldn’t stop rapidly turning pages, trying to sort through the host of possible perpetrators and all the red herrings, trying to find out who might be setting up Miranda as the perp. Someone wise said to her: “Why is this happening? And who is doing it?” Once she figured that out, she would have the answer. And she did, by going back to the beginning of it all. Surprising twists soon led down just the right pathways. 5 stars.


***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE COMFORT OF OTHERS, BY KAY LANGDALE

When we first meet Max, the eleven-year-old boy living with a single mother, we see him using a Dictaphone, taping his thoughts. Then one day, he looks across to the house next door, the one at the center of the compound, and sees Minnie, who appears to be writing in a diary.

Caught up in the alternating narratives of Max and Minnie, we are soon immersed in the story of their lives, and my empathy peaked, until I couldn’t wait for the next episode from each of them.

Eleven-year-old Max is frustrated by the changes in his life after his single mother connects with the man who fixes the boiler. A man unnamed, who seems annoying, at the very least, and somewhat verbally abusive. His teen daughter is a bully, and Max discovers how to deal with her, but I attribute his ability to do so from his newly found connection to Minnie.

Minnie is elderly, living with her older sister Clara, in Rosemount, the home at the center of the compound. Minnie’s writings in her diary recount events from the past that she has kept secret, specifically what happened to her in the early 1960s.

Set in England, The Comfort of Others takes place in the present, but veers into the past through Minnie’s entries. Max’s tapes are about his summer in the present, but also reveal how the intrusion of his mother’s new boyfriend has impacted his life.

My favorite parts were when Max and Minnie share their feelings with each other, and Minnie gives Max some ideas about how to deal with his mother’s boyfriend. He stands up for himself, expressing his feelings bravely and directly.

Minnie and Clara make life-altering decisions that sprang from Minnie’s ability to resurrect the secrets of the past and look at events in a new light.

An interesting story about friendship, secrets, and how communication can change lives. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE BOOKSHOP AT WATER’S END, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

Bonny Blankenship’s most treasured memories are of idyllic summers spent in Watersend, South Carolina, with her best friend, Lainey McKay. Amid the sand dunes and oak trees draped with Spanish moss, they swam and wished for happy-ever-afters, then escaped to the local bookshop to read and whisper in the glorious cool silence. Until the night that changed everything, the night that Lainey’s mother disappeared.

Now, in her early fifties, Bonny is desperate to clear her head after a tragic mistake threatens her career as an emergency room doctor, and her marriage crumbles around her. With her troubled teenage daughter, Piper, in tow, she goes back to the beloved river house, where she is soon joined by Lainey and her two young children. During lazy summer days and magical nights, they reunite with bookshop owner Mimi, who is tangled with the past and its mysteries. As the three women cling to a fragile peace, buried secrets and long ago loves return like the tide.

My Thoughts: Bonny’s journey back to Watersend would resurrect old memories, secrets, and the pain of the past, but it would also remind her of the magic she always felt there. And she needs that magic now, just after a tragedy in her job as an ER doctor leaves her floundering.

With Piper still healing from a broken relationship, the two of them wait and are soon joined by Lainey, who has her own wounds from the past. The pain of the summer that her mother went missing. For years she has searched, but to no avail. The art she creates helps her express the pain and communicate to those who see it.

Owen, Lainey’s brother, is the love Bonny has longed for ever since those days in Watersend, but the more they draw together, the more they seem to part. Owen’s urges take him on journeys that she cannot follow. Adventures that help him push away the pain of the past.

Mimi, as the owner of the bookshop, is the source of all wisdom to Bonny, Lainey, and especially Piper. She offers a refuge, some suggestions that feel like treasures, and, in the end, she has the answers to some very deep questions.

How do Mimi and her friend Loretta fill in some gaps for Lainey? What will Piper find in the small town that will heal the wounds of loss? Will Owen finally come to stay, or will he constantly be on the move again? What does Bonny decide about the old life she left behind in Charleston?

Multiple narrators carry us along in The Bookshop at Water’s End and fill in the missing pieces of their stories. A beautifully wrought tapestry combining art, medicine, and books…the stories would offer meaning and magic for their souls. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley

 

REVIEW: EVERY LAST LIE, BY MARY KUBICA

Description: Clara Solberg’s world shatters when her husband and their four-year-old daughter are in a car crash, killing Nick while Maisie is remarkably unharmed. The crash is ruled an accident…until the coming days, when Maisie starts having night terrors that make Clara question what really happened on that fateful afternoon.

Tormented by grief and her obsession that Nick’s death was far more than just an accident, Clara is plunged into a desperate hunt for the truth. Who would have wanted Nick dead? And, more important, why? Clara will stop at nothing to find out—and the truth is only the beginning of this twisted tale of secrets and deceit.

My Thoughts: Alternately narrated by Clara in the present and Nick “before,” Every Last Lie carries the reader on a fast-paced ride. Back and forth between the red herrings and the truth that seems well hidden, lurking beneath another sea of lies, I could not stop reading.

Why does Maisie have nightmares about a black car chasing them? Who is the “bad man” she sees in her dreams? Who keeps showing up in Clara’s back yard, leaving muddy footprints?

There are several seemingly threatening characters that might be perpetrators: the neighbor, Theo, who is aggressive and leaves bruises on his wife, and who has been in a shouting match with Nick. Then there is Connor, his once best friend and former partner, who shows up in the middle of the night to hit on Clara, and who had also been in a loud argument with Nick days before his death.

Surprisingly, there are some unexpected possibilities that show up at the last moment. And every time you turn around, another secret and lie is unveiled.

The strangeness of Nick’s story leads us through events until that fateful moment, and we think we have the answers…until a video shows up, revealing exactly what happened. But could it be true? Or is there more to the story?

I was shaken to the core by all the twists and turns, not wanting to miss a single sentence, just in case the final reveal would be hidden there, ready to jump out at me. A stunning read! 5 stars.***My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: INTO THE WATER, BY PAULA HAWKINS

A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.
 
Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother’s sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she’d never return.
 
With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.
 
Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

My Thoughts: After the body of Nel Abbott is found in the water, the police conclude that she jumped. But her sister Jules and her daughter Lena, a troubled teen, are not convinced.A short time before her mother’s death, Lena’s best friend Katie had died, also in the river, and Lena is keeping a big secret about the events leading up to Katie’s death. Lena and Katie’s brother Josh are holding what they know close, pretending ignorance.

Because of the history of the Drowning Pool, with suicides ending up there, and then, as Patrick Townsend had been known to say, the river took care of “troublesome women,” some of the women in the English village of Beckford are starting to speculate. Like Jules. And like the psychic Nicki. What stories are the women telling Nel, who is writing a book about the history of the river? Her focus is on how the women are punished, even though the men were also behaving badly.

Years before, Patrick Townsend’s wife Lauren, the mother of Sean, a police officer, died in that river. What had happened? Had she been troublesome? Why does Sean blank out suddenly, and why does he tug at his arm, where someone cut him at some point? What memories are he suppressing?

What really happened between the teacher, Mark Henderson, and Katie? What does Lena know?

Into the Water was a convoluted tale with many red herrings, too many characters, and a lot of confusing elements. At the very end, in the last lines, we finally realize what must have happened to at least one of the dead women. But was there more to the story? I could have enjoyed the story more if it had fewer narrators, but the themes of crime and punishment did keep me intrigued. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: HE SAID, SHE SAID, BY ERIN KELLY

In the summer of 1999, Kit and Laura travel to a festival in Cornwall to see a total eclipse of the sun. Kit is an eclipse chaser; Laura has never seen one before. Young and in love, they are certain this will be the first of many they’ll share.

But in the hushed moments after the shadow passes, Laura interrupts a man and a woman. She knows that she saw something terrible. The man denies it. It is her word against his.

The victim seems grateful. Months later, she turns up on their doorstep like a lonely stray. But as her gratitude takes a twisted turn, Laura begins to wonder—did she trust the wrong person?

15 years later, Kit and Laura are married and living under new names and completely off the digital grid: no Facebook, only rudimentary cell phones, not in any directories. But as the truth catches up to them, they realize they can no longer keep the past in the past.


My Thoughts: Alternating narrators that take us back and forth in time reveal the buried secrets and lies of He Said/She Said. Kit and Laura have lived in various parts of England, have followed many eclipses over the years, and at the present time, Laura is expecting twins.

Kit and Laura were caught up in the eclipse at Lizard Point, Cornwall; it was their first together, but what happened to Beth, a stranger, during the festival will change their lives forever. A series of disasters in the aftermath of a trial would lead to years that Kit and Laura lived off the grid, afraid to be photographed or shown on social media. Who and what was behind their fear? Were they each equally frightened, or was there more to the story?

Just when I thought that I truly understood what was happening with each of the primary characters—Laura, Kit, and Beth—a new revelation would come forth, changing how I viewed that character.

Danger came at them from every corner, but the source of it was just another secret well-hidden until the final pages. Who would be the biggest liar of all, and how would the darkest secrets ultimately derail their lives? 5 stars.


***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE PERFECT STRANGER, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

Confronted by a restraining order and the threat of a lawsuit, failed journalist Leah Stevens needs to get out of Boston when she runs into an old friend, Emmy Grey, who has just left a troubled relationship. Emmy proposes they move to rural Pennsylvania, where Leah can get a teaching position and both women can start again. But their new start is threatened when a woman with an eerie resemblance to Leah is assaulted by the lake, and Emmy disappears days later.

Determined to find Emmy, Leah cooperates with Kyle Donovan, a handsome young police officer on the case. As they investigate her friend’s life for clues, Leah begins to wonder: did she ever really know Emmy at all? With no friends, family, or a digital footprint, the police begin to suspect that there is no Emmy Grey. Soon Leah’s credibility is at stake, and she is forced to revisit her past: the article that ruined her career. To save herself, Leah must uncover the truth about Emmy Grey—and along the way, confront her old demons, find out who she can really trust, and clear her own name.

My Thoughts: The Perfect Stranger was one of those books that had me taking voluminous notes, not sure which details I uncovered that would help me later, as it was clear from the start that many secrets and lies would shake out as we followed the various threads to the end.

First, I was intrigued by the character of Emmy Grey, who may have been someone else entirely. Or perhaps she only existed in the mind of Leah Stevens, through whose eyes we saw most of the events of the story. After all, she leaves no evidence of her existence behind when she goes. Everything is in someone else’s name: in Leah’s name.

How did the attack of a woman who resembled Leah connect to Emmy Grey or even to Leah?

Finding out more kept me reading, and even as each twist and turn led me to still another theory, I knew that the identity of Emmy Grey would be at the heart of it all. Themes of trust were also at the center of the mystery. Who could Leah trust, from her old lover in Boston to Emmy herself?

And what about Detective Kyle Donovan, who seems so forthcoming in the beginning, and then shuts down? Will he finally trust Leah enough to help her?

Twisted threads take us back and forth, with bits and pieces revealed until a startling connection leads us to the very beginning and to the moment of truth. To the place where we finally discover who Emmy is…and to the secrets she had hoped to outrun. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: ONE PERFECT LIE, BY LISA SCOTTOLINE

On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He’s applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he’s ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable.

But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie.

Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he’s being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil.

Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Jordan’s baseball games. But Jordan is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans.

Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them.

At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it?

My Thoughts: The story begins with our introduction to Chris Brennan, who has mysteriously presented himself in a false light in order to accomplish some unstated goal. We start guessing about his plans and what might unfold, but soon our imaginings are toppled as his true identity and mission are revealed.

In the small town of Central Valley, Pennsylvania, there are core characters whose lives connect with Chris almost immediately. I liked Heather, a single mom who is struggling to support her son while performing at a job she hates for a boss she does not respect.

Mindy Kostis, whose privileged life sets her apart and might make her unlikable, surprised me when I discovered unexpected depths and a moral compass that puts her in a great position to challenge her husband and her son Evan. Both have been keeping secrets and lying.

Then there is Susan, whose beloved husband Neil has recently died. Her sons, Ryan and Raz, are finding their way in a world without their father’s guiding presence, and they are making mistakes and bad choices.

How will Chris Brennan’s mission affect these small town residents? What will he do to achieve his goals? A page turner that kept me guessing, while biting my nails, One Perfect Lie was a perfectly fine-tuned read. 5 stars.  

***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: ALMOST MISSED YOU, BY JESSICA STRAWSER

 

 

Violet and Finn were “meant to be,” said everyone, always. They ended up together by the hands of fate aligning things just so. Three years into their marriage, they have a wonderful little boy, and as the three of them embark on their first vacation as a family, Violet can’t help thinking that she can’t believe her luck. Life is good.

So no one is more surprised than she when Finn leaves her at the beach—just packs up the hotel room and disappears. And takes their son with him. Violet is suddenly in her own worst nightmare, and faced with the knowledge that the man she’s shared her life with, she never really knew at all.
Caitlin and Finn have been best friends since way back when, but when Finn shows up on Caitlin’s doorstep with the son he’s wanted for kidnapping, demands that she hide them from the authorities, and threatens to reveal a secret that could destroy her own family if she doesn’t, Caitlin faces an impossible choice.

Told through alternating viewpoints of Violet, Finn and Caitlin, Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You is a powerful story of a mother’s love, a husband’s betrayal, connections that maybe should have been missed, secrets that perhaps shouldn’t have been kept, and spaces between what’s meant to be and what might have been.

My Thoughts: From the very first pages of Almost Missed You, I felt a connection to the character of Violet, and her serendipitous first meeting with Finn. I was reminded of occasions in my own life when events happened in such a way that they seemed “meant to be,” so I could totally relate to Violet’s feelings about her missed connections with Finn, and how happy she was that they finally connected. It did seem fated.But as we soon find out in this back and forth storyline, the fault might have been “in their stars.” Or in their overly persistent push to make these connections happen. Finn’s secrets were the huge stumbling block for them, once they did connect. And when events began to unravel, with secrets revealed in a most hurtful way, I was sure that his past would be too much for them to overcome. But could they find a new starting point?

Of course, Violet’s share of the responsibility lay in her failure to probe more into Finn’s past. Did she really ever know him?

Then there were the two “best friends,” Caitlin and George, and how their own actions and lack of transparency had contributed to it all.

I couldn’t stop turning the pages, hoping for some kind of resolution, eagerly waiting to see if Violet would reunite with her child. The fate of the other characters seemed less important to me, as I definitely rooted mostly for her. A book worthy of 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher, via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: RIGHT BEHIND YOU, BY LISA GARDNER

 

 

 

Eight years ago, Sharlah May Nash’s older brother beat their drunken father to death with a baseball bat in order to save both of their lives. Now thirteen years old, Sharlah has finally moved on. About to be adopted by retired FBI profiler Pierce Quincy and his partner, Rainie Conner, Sharlah loves one thing best about her new family: They are all experts on monsters.

Then the call comes in. A double murder at a local gas station, followed by reports of an armed suspect shooting his way through the wilds of Oregon. As Quincy and Rainie race to assist, they are forced to confront mounting evidence: The shooter may very well be Sharlah’s older brother, Telly Ray Nash, and it appears his killing spree has only just begun.

As the clock winds down on a massive hunt for Telly, Quincy and Rainie must answer two critical questions: Why after eight years has this young man started killing again? And what does this mean for Sharlah? Once upon a time, Sharlah’s big brother saved her life. Now, she has two questions of her own: Is her brother a hero or a killer? And how much will it cost her new family before they learn the final, shattering truth? Because as Sharlah knows all too well, the biggest danger is the one standing right behind you.

My Thoughts: The reader is led through Right Behind You by a series of narrators, alternating between Rainie, Quincy, Shelly, and others…and in between those comes the italicized narrative of Telly Ray Nash.

We think we know what happened…and we are just wondering why it happened after all these years. And why would Telly kill the Duvalls, his very loving foster parents? What could have led him to kill apparent strangers in a gas station? Can a young man who has protected his sister morph into a mass killer? What do these killings tell us, and, if the killer is not Telly, then who? What secrets were Frank and Sandra Duvall keeping, and how does Sandra’s past figure into what is happening?

The characters felt real, with Quincy, a former FBI profiler, front and center in the search, and his wife Rainey, who was also involved, worked to keep Sharlah balanced as emotions ran high. Sheriff Shelly Atkins showed us that “small town sheriff” did not define her: she had skills, and her ability to stay calm in the face of the intense actions made her a great part of the team.

The story kept me engaged throughout, although the numerous processes involved in tracking the killer became tedious after a while. But then I perked up as we began to realize that many things did not add up, and that now there were more questions than answers. As the clues led us to the final reveal, I was on the edge of my seat. Definitely 5 stars for me.

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