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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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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BOOKISH FRIDAY: “BEHIND HER EYES”

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Welcome to another Bookish Friday, in which I  share excerpts from books…and connect with other bloggers, who do the same.

Let’s begin the celebration by sharing Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and let’s showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

What a great way to spend a Friday!

Today I am spotlighting my current read:  Behind Her Eyes, by Sarah Pinborough, a dark, electrifying page-turner with a corker of an ending.” —Harlan Coben, #1 New York Times bestselling author.

 

 

 

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Beginning:  (THEN)

Pinch myself and say I AM AWAKE once an hour.

Look at my hands.  Count my fingers.

Look at clock (or watch), look away, look back.

Stay calm and focused.

Think of a door.

LATER

It was nearly light when it was finally done.  A streaky gray wash across the canvas of sky.  Dry leaves and mud clung to his jeans, and his weak body ached as his sweat cooled in the damp, chill air.  A thing had been done that could not be undone.

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56:  (Adele)

It’s right down at the bottom, under all the junk, but unharmed.  The old notebook.  The tricks of the trade as it were.  It’s thin—I tore the last few pages out years ago because some things should stay secret—but it’s held together.

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Synopsis:  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.

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The surprises keep coming in this thriller.  What do you think?  Do you want to keep reading?

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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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