REVIEW: THE BETTER SISTER, BY ALAFAIR BURKE

 

Though Chloe was the younger of the two Taylor sisters, she always seemed to be the one in charge. She was the honor roll student with big dreams and an even bigger work ethic. Nicky—always restless and more than a little reckless—was the opposite of her ambitious little sister. She floated from job to job and man to man and stayed close to home in Cleveland.

For a while, it seemed that both sisters had found happiness. Chloe earned a scholarship to an Ivy League school and moved to New York City, where she landed a coveted publishing job. Nicky married promising young attorney Adam Macintosh and gave birth to a baby boy they named Ethan. The Taylor sisters became virtual strangers.

Now, more than fifteen years later, their lives are drastically different—and Chloe is married to Adam. When he’s murdered by an intruder at the couple’s East Hampton beach house, Chloe reluctantly allows her teenage stepson’s biological mother—her estranged sister, Nicky—back into her life. But when the police begin to treat Ethan as a suspect in his father’s death, the two sisters are forced to unite . . . and to confront the truth behind family secrets they have tried to bury in the past.

 

My Thoughts: I was caught up in the family story of The Better Sister, wondering what secrets would be unveiled after Adam’s murder. Was Ethan guilty, or was some other family member or friend responsible for the murder?
I liked how the author portrayed the court room scenes, and also how we slowly began to see the deceptions that kept the sisters apart, not trusting each other. When the sisters began to come together in their efforts to protect Ethan, we finally learned the hidden truths. A page turner that earned 4.5 stars.

***

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REVIEW: STONE MOTHERS, BY ERIN KELLY

 

You can’t keep the secret.
You can’t tell the truth.
You can’t escape the past…Marianne was seventeen when she fled her home in Nusstead—leaving behind her family, her boyfriend, Jesse, and the body they buried. Now, thirty years later, forced to return to in order to help care for her sick mother, she can feel the past closing around her. And Jesse, who never for-gave her for leaving in the first place, is finally threatening to expose the truth.

Marianne will do anything to protect the life she’s built, the husband and daughter who must never know what happened all those years ago. Even if it means turning to her worst enemy for help… But Marianne may not know the whole story—and she isn’t the only one with secrets they’d kill to keep.

My Thoughts: Stone Mothers begins with present day Marianne, who is struggling to overcome her fears of past events, along with the dark secrets she has hidden for many years.

Her husband Sam has just bought a second home in the worst place possible. A place that has kept her nightmares alive over the years.

How will the people and places of that time stay hidden? What will she do to outrun the darkness?

Our story flashes back to the beginning and reveals how it all unfolded. We learn what happened between Jesse, Marianne, and Helen…and then we are offered a peek into Helen’s history, which changes how we see her.

Issues of mental health treatment and how the antiquated systems derailed the lives of many kept me glued to the pages. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: I KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BY ALICE FEENEY

 

Meet Aimee Sinclair: the actress everyone thinks they know but can’t remember where from.
Except one person.

Someone knows Aimee very well.

They know who she is and they know what she did.

When Aimee comes home and discovers her husband is missing, she doesn’t seem to know what to do or how to act. The police think she’s hiding something and they’re right, she is—but perhaps not what they thought. Aimee has a secret she’s never shared, and yet, she suspects that someone knows. As she struggles to keep her career and sanity intact, her past comes back to haunt her in ways more dangerous than she could have ever imagined.

My Thoughts: From the beginning moments of I Know Who You Are, we follow Aimee Sinclair’s journey, wondering what secrets she is hiding…and what really happened to Ben.

Our narrative takes us back and forth in time, with Aimee as a kidnapped child whose caretaker is both cruel and kind, a crazy-making pattern of behavior that sets up a lifetime of anxieties.

I liked the pace that kept me turning pages and wondering what would happen next. For example, who is Maggie O’Neil really? What brought her into Aimee’s orbit, and why is she working so hard to ruin her? Does she have an accomplice? What do events in the past have to do with the terror in Aimee’s life now? A creepy, yet engaging read that earned 4.5 stars.

***

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: FORGET YOU KNOW ME, BY JESSICA STRAWSER

 

Molly and Liza have always been enviably close. Even after Molly married Daniel, the couple considered Liza an honorary family member. But after Liza moved away, things grew more strained than anyone wanted to admit―in the friendship and the marriage.

When Daniel goes away on business, Molly and Liza plan to reconnect with a nice long video chat after the kids are in bed. But then Molly leaves the room to check on a crying child.

What Liza sees next will change everything.

Only one thing is certain: Molly needs her. Liza drives all night to be at Molly’s side―but when she arrives, the reception is icy, leaving Liza baffled and hurt. She knows there’s no denying what she saw.

Or is there?

In disbelief that their friendship could really be over, Liza is unaware she’s about to have a near miss of her own.

And Molly, refusing to deal with what’s happened, won’t turn to Daniel, either.

But none of them can go on pretending. Not after this.

My Thoughts: The twists and turns of Forget You Know Me kept me fully engaged throughout, although it would take a while to sort out events. To figure out what, if anything, was left of the relationships between friends and between husband and wife.

Alternating narratives take us through the story, and I couldn’t help but be more drawn to Liza and her situation. Her friend Molly, who had done something truly confusing on the strange night of the video chat, seemed flaky and a little unreliable. What was really going on with her, and would she confess to her old friend, or even her husband, about what was happening?

Many events felt a little too unbelievable, but I did keep reading, because I was curious and wanted to know the meaning of it all. There were explanations by the characters at the end, leaving me with some hope for them all. 4 stars.


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

REVIEW: THE AFFLICTION, BY BETH GUTCHEON

 

Since retiring as head of a famous New York City private school, Maggie Detweiler is busier than ever. Chairing a team to evaluate the faltering Rye Manor School for girls, she will determine whether, in spite of its fabled past, the school has a future at all. With so much on the line for so many, tensions on campus are at an excruciating pitch, and Maggie expects to be as welcome as a case of Ebola virus.

At a reception for the faculty and trustees to “welcome” Maggie’s team, no one seems more keen for all to go well than Florence Meagher, a star teacher who is loved and respected in spite of her affliction—that she can never stop talking.

Florence is one of those dedicated teachers for whom the school is her life, and yet the next morning, when Maggie arrives to observe her teaching, Florence is missing. Florence’s husband, Ray, an auxiliary policeman in the village, seems more annoyed than alarmed at her disappearance. But Florence’s sister is distraught. There have been tensions in the marriage, and at their last visit, Florence had warned, “If anything happens to me, don’t assume it’s an accident.”

Two days later, Florence’s body is found in the campus swimming pool.

Maggie is asked to stay on to coach the very young and inexperienced head of Rye Manor through the crisis. Maggie obviously knows schools, but she also knows something about investigating murder, having solved a mysterious death in Maine the previous year when the police went after the wrong suspect. She is soon joined by her madcap socialite friend Hope, who is jonesing for an excuse to ditch her book club anyway, before she has to actually read Silas Marner.

My Thoughts: When I see a book authored by Beth Gutcheon, I am all in. I wasn’t sure about the boarding school aspect of The Affliction, but the great characters and the wonderful writing kept me turning the pages. Soon I was lost in the story and the discoveries along the way.

The sheer number of possible suspects kept me guessing, but by the time I had settled on the who and the why of the most likely suspect’s actions, I was lost in the fascination of the various routes that Maggie and Hope took to try to find some proof. The police were quite diligent, too, which is always a good thing in small town crime. But a suspect connected to important people cannot be hauled in on circumstantial evidence. By the end, all seemed hopeless. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, an astonishing series of actions taken by an unexpected individual turned everything into a certain kind of justice. 5 stars

***

REVIEW: UNDER MY SKIN, BY LISA UNGER

 

What if the nightmares are actually memories?

It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?

The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts—there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she’s unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?

My Thoughts: Poppy’s first person narrative takes us up and down and around the bend, as she struggles with the aftermath of her husband Jack’s murder.

Under My Skin captured my interest, but I often found myself lost between her reality, her dreams, and her drug induced moments. Her friends seemed to be caring and nurturing, but I was soon suspicious of them and their smothering ways. Were they caring or controlling? Were they protective or were they hiding their own dark secrets?

Because it was hard to decipher Poppy’s state of mind, I had to reread sections to grasp what was going on: was she in a disturbed reality, a dream, or was she lost in her memories? Was she being stalked? Was a hooded man following her?

I especially disliked Layla, Poppy’s long time best friend, who seemed so bossy and controlling. And one of Jack’s old friends, Alvaro, was dark and brooding, and set off red flags for me. But what we discover before the end of the tale was how little we knew about any of them.

Set in Manhattan, the story also takes us to The Hollows, a spooky small town that shows up in other books by the author. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE LIES WE TOLD, BY CAMILLA WAY

 

A daughter
Beth has always known there was something strange about her daughter, Hannah. The lack of emotion, the disturbing behavior, the apparent delight in hurting others…Sometimes Beth is scared of her and what she could be capable of.

A son
Luke comes from the perfect family, with the perfect parents. But one day, he disappears without a trace, and his girlfriend, Clara, is desperate to discover what has happened to him.

A life built on lies
As Clara digs into the past, she realizes that no family is truly perfect, and uncovers a link between Luke’s long-lost sister and a strange girl named Hannah. Now Luke’s life is in danger because of the lies once told and the secrets once kept. Can Clara find him before it’s too late?

My Thoughts: In the beginning pages of The Lies We Told, we are introduced to two families: Doug, Beth, and their daughter Hannah, living in Cambridgeshire, in 1986; and Luke and Clara, young adults living in London in 2017. Luke’s parents, Oliver and Rose Lawson, have become like a second family to Clara.

Our story takes us back and forth, and we watch Hannah’s life grow more troubling with each year that passes. Her horrific and sociopathic behavior gets more dangerous with time. The behavior, and a dark secret dating back to Hannah’s infancy, keeps this family on tenterhooks.

Meanwhile, in contemporary London, Clara’s world is upended when Luke goes missing. Before he was “taken,” there were e-mails and strange events. Luke, obviously, had a stalker.

Seeing the connections slowly come together for these characters kept me glued to the book. I had figured out that there were very dark links between them all, but just how deep the ties went and how twisted they were would not be revealed until close to the end.

Like dropping bread crumbs, some of the characters lead us along their pathways, while the others try to follow, hoping to learn more about each of them: their lives, their lies, and their secrets. How will each of the characters put everything together? Will they find Luke? What will happen between them all when the sordid secrets are finally out in the open?

Hannah was a frightening character, but Luke was no saint. His flaws contributed to his vulnerability, and his family’s secrets and lies made him the perfect target. I kept turning pages rapidly as the layered and captivating story reached its denouement. 5 stars.


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

REVIEW: THE OTHER WOMAN, BY SANDIE JONES

 

HE LOVES YOU: Adam adores Emily. Emily thinks Adam’s perfect, the man she thought she’d never meet.

BUT SHE LOVES YOU NOT: Lurking in the shadows is a rival, a woman who shares a deep bond with the man she loves.

AND SHE’LL STOP AT NOTHING: Emily chose Adam, but she didn’t choose his mother Pammie.

There’s nothing a mother wouldn’t do for her son, and now Emily is about to find out just how far Pammie will go to get what she wants: Emily gone forever.

My Thoughts: The Other Woman was a book that captured my interest right away, as I watched the unfolding power struggle between our narrator, Emily, and Pammie, the mother of her fiancé. To others, Pammie was sweet, so Emily could find no allies in her quest to get the upper hand.

Her own mother colluded with Pammie in setting up the “hen do,” when an unexpected and unwelcome guest appeared. But Emily hadn’t shared her thoughts and feelings about Pammie with her mother, not wanting her to worry. What? That was one of her biggest mistakes.

Then there was Adam, almost as annoying as Pammie, always running to his mother’s side and never supporting Emily as she tried to stay afloat.

James, Adam’s brother, seemed supportive, but then he made the moves on her.

What was happening in this Twilight Zone of a family? What has Emily discovered about her predecessor, who died suddenly one day? What are the secrets behind this tragedy?

As I kept turning pages, I wanted Emily to stand up and say “no more!” But she didn’t. She kept forgiving and offering second, third chances…until the final twist had me stunned and saying “no way!”

I had whiplash by then, but something felt wrong and too easy about this ending. After expecting a whole different kind of denouement, I felt a little…let down. It seemed almost unbelievable, which dropped this book down to 3.5 stars for me.

***

REVIEW: LIES, BY T. M. LOGAN

 

Six days ago, Joe Lynch was a happily married man, a devoted father, and a respected teacher living in a well-to-do London suburb. But that was before he spotted his wife’s car entering a hotel parking garage. Before he saw her in a heated argument with her best friend’s husband. Before Joe confronted the other man in an altercation where he left him for dead, bleeding and unconscious.

Now, Joe’s life is unraveling. His wife has lied to him. Her deception has put their entire family in jeopardy. The man she met at the hotel has vanished. And as the police investigate his disappearance, suspicion falls on Joe.

Unable to trust the woman he loves, Joe finds himself at the mercy of her revelations and deceits, unsure of who or what to believe. All he knows is that her actions have brought someone dangerous into their lives—someone obsessed with her and determined to tear Joe’s world apart.

What if your whole life was based on LIES?

My Thoughts: I was immediately hooked on Lies, as the pages quickly turned and more and more duplicity was revealed.

Joe’s first person narrative carried us along, our feelings heightened with each lie revealed, and as we followed each step he took, we were unsure of who the enemies would turn out to be, and whose life would be endangered next.

Joe and Mel’s son William, a sweet four-year-old who was precocious and spoke up with his thoughts and needs, was such a treat, but his vulnerability intensified my hope that Joe would find the answers he sought.

From the beginning, I distrusted Mel. Initially, she seemed loving, but as she began to share the lies, a bit at a time, the tidbits handed out in pieces, it was easy to see that she had a lot more hidden. Her façade was intact, though, making it hard to penetrate it in the quest for full disclosure.

What is the end game for the liars? Is Beth’s husband Ben the evil perpetrator, or is there more to the story? Why are the police so quickly targeting Joe? Who has set up the perfect trap, and why?

Even though I didn’t believe the stories Mel was telling, I wasn’t prepared for what came out in the stunning conclusion. Intense and horrifying, I couldn’t breathe while the events played out.


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