REVIEW: THE SWEENEY SISTERS, BY LIAN DOLAN

Maggie, Eliza, and Tricia Sweeney grew up as a happy threesome in the idyllic seaside town of Southport, Connecticut. But their mother’s death from cancer fifteen years ago tarnished their golden-hued memories, and the sisters drifted apart. Their one touchstone is their father, Bill Sweeney, an internationally famous literary lion and college professor universally adored by critics, publishers, and book lovers. When Bill dies unexpectedly one cool June night, his shell-shocked daughters return to their childhood home. They aren’t quite sure what the future holds without their larger-than-life father, but they do know how to throw an Irish wake to honor a man of his stature.

But as guests pay their respects and reminisce, one stranger, emboldened by whiskey, has crashed the party. It turns out that she too is a Sweeney sister.

When Washington, DC based journalist Serena Tucker had her DNA tested on a whim a few weeks earlier, she learned she had a 50% genetic match with a childhood neighbor—Maggie Sweeney of Southport, Connecticut. It seems Serena’s chilly WASP mother, Birdie, had a history with Bill Sweeney—one that has remained totally secret until now.

Once the shock wears off, questions abound. What does this mean for William’s literary legacy? Where is the unfinished memoir he’s stashed away, and what will it reveal? And how will a fourth Sweeney sister—a blond among redheads—fit into their story.

 

The story of how a perfectly coordinated trilogy of sisters turns The Sweeney Sisters into an unexpected and potentially conflicted group had me turning pages throughout. Each sister was clearly drawn, so that they were not cardboard cut-outs but interesting characters with unique personalities.

Liza was my favorite as formerly the eldest Sweeney daughter; finding out that her father had another daughter older than she could have really struck a dark chord for her. She was also in a conflicted relationship with her remote and unlikable husband, so there were layers to the story.

Maggie, previously the “middle” child, was often troubled and melodramatic, so her potential to destroy any possible harmony was there from the beginning. But then she surprised us by feeling an unexpected connection to the “new sister,” who could have been viewed as an interloper.

The way the sisters handled their father’s behavior and how he had betrayed their mother did lead to many conversations and choices they made to cope with it all.

I also enjoyed how the sisters dealt with the legal and literary issues posed by their father’s passing. The search for the last unpublished manuscript added intrigue to the story.

I loved the descriptions and how the sisters brought the new offspring into the fold. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SOMETHING SHE’S NOT TELLING US, BY DARCEY BELL

Charlotte has everything in life that she ever could have hoped for: a doting, artistic husband, a small-but-thriving flower shop, and her sweet, smart five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Her relation-ship with her mother might be strained, but the distance between them helps. And her younger brother Rocco may have horrible taste in women, but when he introduces his new girlfriend to Charlotte and her family, they are cautiously optimistic that she could be The One. Daisy seems to love Ruth, and she can’t be any worse than the klepto Rocco brought home the last time. At least, that’s what Charlotte keeps telling herself. But as Rocco and Ruth’s relationship becomes more serious, Ruth’s apparent obsession with Daisy grows more obvious. Then Daisy is kidnapped, and Charlotte is convinced there’s only one person who could have taken her.

Ruth has never had much, but now she’s finally on the verge of having everything she’s ever dreamed of. A stable job at a start-up company, a rakish, handsome boyfriend with whom she falls more in love with every day—and a chance at the happy family she’s always wanted, adorable niece included. The only obstacle standing in her way is her boyfriend’s sister Charlotte, whose attitude swerves between politely cold and outright hostile. Rebuffing Ruth’s every attempt to build a friendship with her and Daisy, Charlotte watches over her daughter with a desperate protectiveness that sends chills down Ruth’s spine. Ruth knows that Charlotte has a deeply-buried secret, the only question is: what? A surprise outing with Daisy could be the key to finding out, and Ruth knows she must take the chance while she has it—for everyone’s sake.

As the two women follow each other down a chilling rabbit hole, unearthing winding paths of deceit, lies, and trauma, a family and a future will be completely—and irrevocably—shattered.


As we follow the convoluted tales of Charlotte and Ruth in Something She’s Not Telling Us, we know that each one has dark secrets from the past. I was on Charlotte’s side from the beginning, as Ruth grew more and more strange with each passing day.

Why did Ruth tell lies at every turn, lies that could easily be picked apart? What was her back story, and what does her mother have to do with it all? Were her grandparents the loving people to whom she owed so much, or is their story even darker?

When Charlotte finally realizes that Ruth is dangerous, it could be too late, as Ruth has collected Daisy from school one day without notifying Charlotte or Eli. The story goes back and forth in time, so it takes a while, with the intensity building up, for the reader to fill in the missing pieces and realize how dangerous Ruth could be. I was holding my breath and biting my nails until the final revelations. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE OPERATOR, BY GRETCHEN BERG

In a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business . . .

Nobody knows the people of Wooster, Ohio, better than switchboard operator Vivian Dalton, and she’d be the first to tell you that. She calls it intuition. Her teenage daughter, Charlotte, calls it eavesdropping.

Vivian and the other women who work at Bell on East Liberty Street connect lines and lives. They aren’t supposed to listen in on conversations, but they do, and they all have opinions on what they hear—especially Vivian. She knows that Mrs. Butler’s ungrateful daughter, Maxine, still hasn’t thanked her mother for the quilt she made, and that Ginny Frazier turned down yet another invitation to go to the A&W with Clyde Walsh.

Then, one cold December night, Vivian listens in on a call between that snob Betty Miller and someone whose voice she can’t quite place and hears something shocking. Betty Miller’s mystery friend has news that, if true, will shatter Vivian’s tidy life in Wooster, humiliating her and making her the laughingstock of the town.

Vivian may be mortified, but she isn’t going to take this lying down. She’s going to get to the bottom of that rumor—get into it, get under it, poke around in the corners. Find every last bit. Vivian wants the truth, no matter how painful it may be.

But as Vivian is about to be reminded, in a small town like Wooster, one secret usually leads to another. . .

As I read The Operator, I felt myself swept back in time to the 1950s small town in which I lived growing up. Back then, not only did operators connect our calls, but we also had party lines and could hear some of our neighbors’ conversations.

I have always been fascinated by the idea of switchboard operators and how much control these young women had over the conversations and the happenings around them.

Alternating narrators take us through the stories in this fascinating book, serving to distract me completely from my own current troubles, remembering those long-ago times and the incidents that affected small town lives.

I felt compassion for Vivian, whose family life growing up set the stage for an adulthood full of envy of those with more. Those who had privileges she had not known.

In the end, Vivian does find that the secrets that could have ruined her life turned out to launch a whole new beginning for her. An engaging story that earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS, BY PETER SWANSON

Years ago, bookseller and mystery aficionado Malcolm Kershaw compiled a list of the genre’s most unsolvable murders, those that are almost impossible to crack—which he titled “Eight Perfect Murders”—chosen from among the best of the best including Agatha Christie’s A. B. C. Murders, Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, Ira Levin’s Death Trap, A. A. Milne’s Red House Mystery, Anthony Berkeley Cox’s Malice Aforethought, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, John D. Macdonald’s The Drowner, and Donna Tartt’s A Secret History.

But no one is more surprised than Mal, now the owner of the Old Devils Bookstore in Boston, when an FBI agent comes knocking on his door one snowy day in February. She’s looking for information about a series of unsolved murders that look eerily similar to the killings on Mal’s old list. And the FBI agent isn’t the only one interested in this bookseller who spends almost every night at home reading. The killer is out there, watching his every move—a diabolical threat who knows way too much about Mal’s personal history, especially the secrets he’s never told anyone, even his recently deceased wife.

To protect himself, Mal begins looking into possible suspects . . . and sees a killer in everyone around him. But Mal doesn’t count on the investigation leaving a trail of death in its wake. Suddenly, a series of shocking twists leaves more victims dead—and the noose around Mal’s neck grows so tight he might never escape.


Malcom Kershaw is the first person narrator of Eight Perfect Murders, and as we follow his thought processes and his internal monologue, we are part of his journey through the list he created. The one that seemingly inspires a killer.But as we go along for the ride, we learn a lot more just by the connections between the murders and the list: those connections that Mal draws for the FBI agent Gwen. We soon realize that Mal is not necessarily telling the whole truth, but we are too fascinated by it all to care about that.

By the end, Mal fills us in on some missing pieces to the stories…and we are left wondering if we have truly reached the end, or if there might be more to learn. A 5 star read for me.

***

 

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.

***

REVIEW: BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

 

My Thoughts: Alternating narratives reveal the dual timeline stories and keep the reader on the hook as more and more layers are peeled back.

We start with Anna Dale, in the 1940s, and her challenge to finish the mural to be displayed in the Edenton Post Office. Even though she has won the contest fair and square, she is bombarded with prejudice and challenges that soon seemingly overwhelm her…until one fateful night when violence strikes and changes her life forever. Racial prejudice walks hand in hand with the other difficulties she faces.

Flash forward to 2018, when Morgan Christopher is unexpectedly offered the opportunity to early parole from prison in order to take on the task of restoring Anna Dale’s piece, one that is buried beneath grime, not to mention some very strange images that seemingly tell a disturbing tale. Not only is she given an almost impossible task, the deadline must coincide with the gallery opening.

Will Morgan finish the task? What will she uncover beneath the layers of filth and secrets? What will she learn about Anna Dale and the original secrets and lies just waiting to be told?

I loved how Big Lies in a Small Town unfolded, and despite clues, I was blown away by all we learned about that small town and the people who would do anything to hide their secrets. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: SOMEONE WE KNOW, BY SHARI LAPENA

 

“This is a very difficult letter to write. I hope you will not hate us too much. . . My son broke into your home recently while you were out.”

In a quiet, leafy suburb in upstate New York, a teenager has been sneaking into houses—and into the owners’ computers as well—learning their secrets, and maybe sharing some of them, too.
Who is he, and what might he have uncovered? After two anonymous letters are received, whispers start to circulate, and suspicion mounts. And when a woman down the street is found murdered, the tension reaches the breaking point. Who killed her? Who knows more than they’re telling? And how far will all these very nice people go to protect their own secrets?

In this neighborhood, it’s not just the husbands and wives who play games. Here, everyone in the family has something to hide . . .

You never really know what people are capable of.

My Thoughts: When a woman is murdered in a quiet neighborhood in upstate New York, a chain of events is unleashed, moving across the streets and sweeping up the neighbors surrounding the crime victim, turning their lives on end.

A teenage boy and his strange nighttime activities are revealed, another teen turns to alcohol to deal with an unknown stress, and each of the wives look with suspicion at their husbands as they are all called in for questioning and are under scrutiny for a time.

How would the detectives sort out the truth from the lies? When everyone seems to have a motive, how will they finally catch the killer? The obvious perpetrator seems to be the husband, who is behaving very strangely. But then all of the other men have things to hide, too. A stunning reveal kept me intrigued with Someone We Know until the very end. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE MISSING YEARS, BY LEXIE ELLIOTT

 

Ailsa Calder has inherited half of a house. The other half belongs to a man who disappeared without a trace twenty-seven years ago—her father.

Leaving London behind to settle the inheritance from her mother’s estate, Ailsa returns to her childhood home, nestled amongst the craggy peaks of the Scottish Highlands, joined by the half-sister who’s almost a stranger to her.

Ailsa can’t escape the claustrophobic feeling that the house itself is watching her—as if her past hungers to consume her. She also can’t ignore how the neighborhood animals refuse to set one foot within the gates of the garden.

When the first nighttime intruder shows up, Ailsa fears that the manor’s careless rugged beauty could cost her everything.

 

My Thoughts: The Missing Years is told from the perspective of Ailsa Calder, who has returned to the mysterious Scottish home that is part of her inheritance. Her half-sister Carrie is acting in a play in Edinburgh, and the two are reconnecting after many years. They are hoping that their mother’s death has given them the opportunity to be true sisters.

But before the two of them have the chance, a series of disturbing events terrorize them until they are ready to run.

I held onto each page with intensity as more and more disturbing happenings brought them to a tragic conclusion. What townsfolk, if any, are responsible for what is happening? I thought I had it all figured out but then I was stunned by how it all unfolded.

Could the house itself be haunted and responsible? Or are some of the neighbors playing tricks on them? I enjoyed this book and gave it 4.5 stars.***

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.

***

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.

***