REVIEW: LIE TO ME, BY J. T. ELLISON

 

They built a life on lies…

Sutton and Ethan Montclair’s idyllic life is not as it appears. They seem made for each other, but the truth is ugly. Consumed by professional and personal betrayals and financial woes, the two both love and hate each other. As tensions mount, Sutton disappears, leaving behind a note saying not to look for her.

Ethan finds himself the target of vicious gossip as friends, family and the media speculate on what really happened to Sutton Montclair. As the police investigate, the lies the couple have been spinning for years quickly unravel. Is Ethan a killer? Is he being set up? Did Sutton hate him enough to kill the child she never wanted and then herself? The path to the answers is full of twists that will leave the reader breathless.

 

My Thoughts: Lie to Me opens with Ethan’s narrative, with him walking into the kitchen and finding a note from his wife. From that point on, everything he thinks is true turns out to be either a lie or a product of someone else’s lie. Which is it? When even the friends who had been so supportive to both Ethan and Sutton begin to distrust them, pointing fingers of blame, and then when it looks as if Ethan has done something horrific…we realize that nothing is at it seems.

At this point, the story switches to Sutton’s narrative. She is hiding out and has created a new life. But why? Did she set everything in motion, or is there another nefarious presence behind it all.

An anonymous third narrator drops little clues along the way, but we won’t discover the truth until almost the end. Then the pieces fall together and form a malevolent picture.

I could not stop reading until the last page, and even then, a final bread crumb was tossed at the reader. Definitely a 5 star read for me.***

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REVIEW: WHEN WE WERE WORTHY, BY MARYBETH MAYHEW WHALEN

 

A win brought them together, but loss may tear them apart.

When the sound of sirens cuts through a cool fall night, the small town of Worthy, Georgia, hurtles from triumph to tragedy. Just hours before, they’d watched the Wildcats score a winning touchdown. Now, they’re faced with the deaths of three cheerleaders—their promising lives cut short in a fatal crash. And the boy in the other car—the only one to survive—is believed to be at fault. As rumors begin to fly and accusations spin, allegiances form and long-kept secrets emerge.

At the center of the whirlwind are four women, each grappling with loss, regret, shame, and lies: Marglyn, a grieving mother; Darcy, whose son had been behind the wheel; Ava, a substitute teacher with a scandalous secret; and Leah, a cheerleader who should have been in the car with her friends, but wasn’t. If the truth comes out, will it bring redemption—or will it be their downfall?

My Thoughts: In alternating perspectives, the characters in When We Were Worthy reveal their own truths in bits and pieces, including their secrets and fears.

Marglyn is the grieving mother of Mary Claire, and her biggest regret is that she let her daughter leave that night with harsh words between them. Afterwards, she has dreams and visions in which she and her daughter try to communicate.

Ava, the wife and substitute teacher of one of the girls, feels neglected and alone in this small town where she does not belong. That’s how she feels, anyway. And when something scandalous is brought to light, I empathized with how alone she felt when her husband, in-laws, and townspeople did not believe her; did not give her the benefit of the doubt.

Darcy, as the mother of the boy who probably caused the accident, is also lost and alone. Who does she turn to? Someone who has also gone through something…but could she be making a dreadful mistake?

The only cheerleader who did not go that night, and who is therefore alive, is Leah. Her secret about why she didn’t go was held close to her heart. But she struggled with what she needed to reveal; something that could help Ava.

How would the secrets and lies emerge? Who would be left standing, and who might sink further into the depths of despair? While I figured out a part of Leah’s dark secret, and the one that would make all the difference to Ava, I kept expecting something more shocking. So, in fact, the secret was a bit underwhelming. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the story. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE STOLEN MARRIAGE, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

One mistake, one fateful night, and Tess DeMello’s life is changed forever.

It is 1944. Pregnant, alone, and riddled with guilt, twenty-three-year-old Tess DeMello abruptly gives up her budding career as a nurse and ends her engagement to the love of her life, unable to live a lie. Instead, she turns to the baby’s father for help and agrees to marry him, moving to the small, rural town of Hickory, North Carolina. Tess’s new husband, Henry Kraft, is a secretive man who often stays out all night, hides money from his new wife, and shows her no affection. Tess quickly realizes she’s trapped in a strange and loveless marriage with no way out.

The people of Hickory love and respect Henry but see Tess as an outsider, treating her with suspicion and disdain. When one of the town’s golden girls dies in a terrible accident, everyone holds Tess responsible. But Henry keeps his secrets even closer now, though it seems that everyone knows something about him that Tess does not.

When a sudden polio epidemic strikes Hickory, the townspeople band together to build a polio hospital. Tess knows she is needed and defies Henry’s wishes to begin working at there. Through this work, she begins to find purpose and meaning. Yet at home, Henry’s actions grow more alarming by the day. As Tess works to save the lives of her patients, can she untangle the truth behind her husband’s mysterious behavior and find the love—and the life—she was meant to have?

My Thoughts: I was immediately caught up in the story of Tess and Vincent; I felt her pain when one mistake led to impossible choices.

Her pregnancy and marriage to wealthy Henry Kraft would take Tess outside her comfort zone. No longer living in Little Italy in Baltimore, she struggled to fit into her new life in Hickory, North Carolina.

But even as she tried to settle into her new life, Henry’s behavior toward her was puzzling, and the hostility she felt from all the townspeople, including her mother-in-law, made her adjustment almost impossible. Would she ever unravel the secrets Henry held deep within?

When Tess finished her licensing for her R.N. and, despite her husband’s objections, began working as a volunteer nurse during the polio epidemic that had hit the town, she started to regain her feelings of self-worth and confidence.

When an unexpected person from her past gives her new hope, she suddenly and unexpectedly finds just the power she needs to regain her life. And a mysterious journey leads her to treasures she had never anticipated. The Stolen Marriage was a beautiful story that kept me rapidly turning pages. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE TRUTH WE BURY, BY BARBARA TAYLOR SISSEL

 

On the outside, Lily Isley’s life seems perfect: a wealthy husband, a ritzy gated community in Dallas, and a handsome son, AJ—a decorated marine about to be married to his love, Shea. But when a bridesmaid is murdered in AJ’s apartment and he can’t be found, Lily’s world collapses and a long-held family secret is at risk of exposure.

Dru Gallagher’s life took a different course. After her ex-husband, suffering from post-traumatic stress, threatened her and her daughter, Shea, with a shotgun, Dru was forced to leave her marriage and forge ahead as a working-class single mom. Now, the anger she sees in war veteran AJ’s eyes is heartbreakingly familiar—and makes Dru deeply afraid for her daughter’s safety…especially after Shea’s best friend and maid of honor is found dead.

With a killer on the loose and time running out, Lily and Dru, two very different women, unite in a single goal: to save their precious children from scandal, even from death. But will the mothers’ protection be enough, or will the fateful secret they expose—and the truth it reveals—destroy every hope of love?

My Thoughts: Our alternating narrators in The Truth We Bury take us from the present to the past, reminding us that buried secrets often have a way of surfacing.As the police search for a killer, their primary focus seems to be A. J. Will they ignore other possibilities and go for the easy target?

As the story unfolds and secrets emerge, everyone in the small town is affected, and life will never be the same.

It would be easy to point out the missteps of the police, but the killer has set events into motion to point them in a particular direction. The stunning revelations at the end changed everything that Lily and Dru had believed, but when all fell into place, the characters were left with no choice but to pick up the pieces. A poignant and unexpected ending kept me turning pages as a new normal began to emerge. 4 stars.

 ***

REVIEW: THE GOOD DAUGHTER, BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

 

Two girls are forced into the woods at gunpoint. One runs for her life. One is left behind…

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy small-town family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father — Pikeville’s notorious defense attorney — devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.

Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself — the ideal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again — and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatized — Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case that unleashes the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime that destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried forever…


My Thoughts: Living in a small Georgia town populated by angry residents who turn to crime more often than not, the Quinn family stands out. Mostly because they are not like the others, but also because Rusty Quinn defends some of those angry people, to the detriment of his family.

The Good Daughter brings out Charlie’s story first, as she has stayed in Pikeville to help her father, even though she has a separate practice and does not see eye-to-eye with him. But it is easy for the townsfolk to paint them both with the “liberal” brush, which does not endear them to the residents, especially the cops.

When something horrific happens one day, and when Charlie is caught up in the middle of it all, Sam is called back to town. Living in New York for several years, she is still trying to put the past behind her, especially the day of the devastating attack on her family. She still suffers from the aftermath of the events.

What is happening in Charlie’s marriage and personal life that has turned her into an angry person? How are Sam’s lasting injuries adding to the stress she feels when she faces the town again? What will Sam learn about the alleged perpetrator in the recent violence that will change how she and her father approach the case? What unexpected revelations will finally release them from the past?

Just when I thought I had everything figured out, more secrets are revealed and an astonishing denouement makes all the difference for the two sisters. A 5 star read for me.

***

REVIEW: THE LYING GAME, BY RUTH WARE

 

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be something much more sinister…

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isabel—receive the text they had always hoped would NEVER come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate, that says only, “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty, with varying states of serious and flippant nature that were disturbing enough to ensure that everyone steered clear of them. The myriad and complicated rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences, and the girls were all expelled in their final year of school under mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of the school’s eccentric art teacher, Ambrose (who also happens to be Kate’s father).

My Thoughts: There is something disturbing about a group of young girls, drawn together by circumstances, who find amusement in a game that involves lying. Especially when the goal of the lying is to hurt others, to put them in their place.

They must know that the practice of lying will come back to bite them, if not now, later in life. Or perhaps, in their immaturity, they do not care.

Kate is really at the heart of the lying game, in my opinion, and as much as I could see her need to control her friends through this game, since she has had much sadness in her life, I wished that the girls could have found a way to tell her no.

Isa, whose narrative voice draws us into The Lying Game, has a lot to lose by going along with Kate’s games…and so does Fatima.

Perhaps they did not foresee the consequences when they started the game. But surely they could have stopped at some point, before it all turned dangerous and horrific. Why is Kate able to crook her little finger and bring them all to her side? Ultimately, why does she have so much control over them, and what is she keeping from them? Is she breaking their one rule not to lie to each other?

I thought I knew how the story would unfold, so there were some stunning surprises that I realize, in retrospect, were hiding out in dark corners, waiting to be revealed in the most tragic way possible. 4.5 stars.

***

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.

***

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.