REVIEW: THE GUEST LIST, BY LUCY FOLEY

 

The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?

As we follow along, getting acquainted with the characters in The Guest List, we are on tenterhooks, wondering what will go wrong. The sense of foreboding hovers overhead as the alternating narrators tell the story. Who will end up in a dark place…or dead?

Jules, the bride, was annoyingly determined for perfection, critical of anything or anyone that might interfere with that goal.

Olivia, the bridesmaid and sister to the bride, is in a mood from the beginning. Something has gone awry for her, but she is trying to hide whatever that might be.

Hannah, the “Plus One,” is married to one of the bride’s male friends, and the two of them seem to be too close for comfort. Why are they often huddled together, whispering, and will their behavior trigger something in Hannah?

What mysterious drinking games amongst the groomsmen are setting off sparks among the other guests?

As the days pass, we know that dark and mysterious events will soon be coming…and we hold our breaths, waiting.

Just when we have imagined the scenario that will play out, we realize that there are complex puzzle pieces coming together to make up the eventual tragedy, and nothing can be sorted out easily.

By the time I turned the last page, I felt something for each and every character. Some of it was sadness. There was some empathy, too, but also a dark aura of disgust and contempt for the entitlement that had threaded itself through their lives. 4.5 stars.

***

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 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: FRACTURED, BY CATHERINE MCKENZIE

 

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Best-selling author Julie Apple (Prentice), who wrote The Murder Game, moves with her family from Tacoma to Cincinnati after a stalker seemingly upends her life.

Her husband, Daniel, and their twins, Sam and Melissa, soon seem to settle into their new lives, and Julie works each day on a second book.

Fractured opens with a scene entitled “Today, 6 a.m.”, and we watch as John Dunbar, Julie’s neighbor, ponders events that have transpired. He is clearly in the middle of something troubling, something tragic that has happened in the recent past. Something involving legal action.

From then on, the non-linear story is told, alternating between Julie and John, and moving forward from “a year ago.” Bits and pieces of events are brought out over this time period, and we soon realize who, among the characters living on Pine Street, could be suspects in the tragedy that occurred; a tragedy that we only find out about eventually.

Right away, I really hated one of the characters. Cindy Sutton, a control freak who seems to set the rules for the neighbors, and eventually starts a website that encourages them to spy on one another, seems hell-bent on judging everyone. She cloaks her actions in terms of “safety,” but the “check-ins” on the site pinpoint what everyone else is doing and where. This site seems to feed into the harassment that begins against Julie…again.

Hanna, John’s wife, was another character I couldn’t warm up to…she seemed all too willing to believe neighbors like Cindy, who distrust Julie. John’s friendship with Julie is another issue between them.

Then there is Chris, John and Hanna’s teenage son, who is sneaking around with Ashley, Cindy’s daughter. Ashley was another teen I didn’t like, probably because she also seems untrustworthy.

With neighbors like these, how can Julie settle in and become part of the seemingly cozy surroundings? How did the behavior of Cindy, Hanna, Chris, and Ashley…among others, contribute to the tragic events that unfolded?

A suspenseful tale that kept me glued to the pages until the very end, the story also generated all the emotions you might experience if these events were happening to people you know. When the final reveal was brought forth, I knew that none of the characters would be the same again. And neither would the readers of this book. 5 stars.

cropped-again-5***

REVIEW: IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT, BY JUDY BLUME

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The opening lines of In the Unlikely Event take place in 1987, with an unnamed character experiencing great anxiety as she ponders whether or not to board a flight to Newark, NJ. She is suffering the angst of belonging to a very special secret club of members joined by a tragic winter long ago.

Flash back to December 1951, to a small New Jersey town called Elizabeth. Christmas lights are out and there is gaiety in the air. It won’t be long, though, before everything changes for the residents of this picturesque town.

The first plane crash comes only days later, with everyone aboard dead. It landed in a riverbed, so the damage below was negligible.

The residents of the town haven’t even recovered when, in January 1952, the second crash occurs. And a month later, another one.

Henry Ammerman is a journalist covering the story for the local newspaper, and he finds a measure of fame through his provocative columns, as he probes the questions that plague them all. What is happening? Are the crashes coincidental, or is there some kind of sabotage behind them? Some blame “the Communists,” while the teenagers mention aliens.

As the story unfolds, we meet numerous characters, some seemingly random and their presence in the tale becomes readily apparent, as they connect in some way to the plane crashes. Like Ruby Granik, a young dancer and a victim; or Kathy Stein, who has been dating Steve Osner, a resident of Elizabeth, also dead in one of the crashes.

Miri Ammerman, the daughter of single mom Rusty and niece of Henry, is fifteen, and her life is shaken by these happenings, just as the life of her best friend Natalie Osner takes a strange turn. Has Natalie been “taken over” by the deceased spirit of one of the victims?

Even as I loved certain aspects of this novel, the numerous characters, most mentioned only once or twice, were confusing and distracting. I would have loved to dig more deeply into the lives of the primary characters, like what has Rusty been feeling all these years, raising Miri alone, with no help from the father? And when he does appear, why is she so reluctant to let him help? How do the core characters deal with the aftermath of these events?

Then, almost abruptly, we flash forward to 1987, with Miri returning to Elizabeth for a memorial of that strange year. And in a quick summarizing of events, we are caught up on what has transpired in the lives of those residents, another reminder of how much I would have enjoyed the story with more depth and a focus on the core characters. An engaging novel, however. 4 stars.

REVIEW: ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE, BY RANDY SUSAN MEYERS

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Ben and Maddy have been married for many years, and sometimes they seem to be going through the motions. Between his job at the public defender’s office and hers as a social worker, they are on automatic pilot.

There is one recurring theme in their relationship: Ben’s quick temper that sometimes seems to erupt with no warning. His impatience, his yelling, and the way he seems to be someone she doesn’t even know…these features to his personality have Maddy questioning everything about her life.

Their three children are showing the signs of the strain between them. Emma, 15, is increasingly out of control, and the younger two, Gracie and Caleb, are on the verge of following suit.

Then on a rainy day on a Boston freeway, as Ben rushes, after reluctantly picking up a stranded Maddy, there is a horrific accident. And yes, a tailgater is partially responsible, but Ben was driving too fast and too angrily…and now Maddy lies in a coma.

What will become of their family now?

The story is narrated by Ben, Emma, and Maddy.

It is a tale of Before and After, and it is a sad reminder of how driving while enraged can be just as devastating as driving while intoxicated. And Ben, who I would characterize as a Rage-a-holic, needs serious treatment. In many ways, his personality resembles that of a certain type of addict that those in the program call “King Baby.” Everything is all about him and his needs, and his rage is his very infantile reaction to not getting what he wants when he wants it.

I liked Maddy and empathized with her struggle as she tried to recover from a serious brain injury. Emma was struggling and carrying too much responsibility for a young girl, and even though other family members stepped up, there was really nobody there for Maddy. Ben’s efforts were almost pointless, coming as they did with his resentments on full view and delivered with heavy sighs.

A story that could have taken an easy way out, Accidents of Marriage: A Novel did not tie up all the issues with a pretty bow at the end, but I was left hoping that Maddy would make the choices that were right for her and for the children. Ben, on the other hand, was so unlikeable that I did not really care what happened to him. Wonderful read recommended for those who enjoy family drama and dysfunctional relationships. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: SAFE WITH ME, BY AMY HATVANY

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When Hannah decides that, after a failed relationship, she should pursue her desire for children on her own, she uses a sperm donor and gives birth to Emily, the daughter who is everything she has ever wanted in a family.

But in one pivotal moment, twelve-year-old Emily is killed—struck by a car in front of their house. Submerged in grief, Hannah at first rejects the idea of donating Emily’s organs, but then changes her mind.

Now, a year later, she is still struggling with her grief and loss. She has moved from the Seattle home she shared with her daughter to an apartment over the new salon she is renovating. Her one friend and partner, Sophie, continues to manage the downtown salon.

Then one day, a woman and her teenaged daughter walk into the newly opened salon that Hannah owns, and she feels an instant connection to Olivia and Maddie. How will Hannah discover just what binds them together? And as Hannah and Olivia grow closer, what dirty secrets does Hannah discover are hiding behind the doors of the upscale home where Olivia, Maddie, and her husband James live? What will finally bring the truth to light?

Narrated from Hannah’s, Olivia’s, and Maddie’s perspective, Safe with Me: A Novel was an emotionally engaging read that had me eagerly turning pages. While the coincidences of the story seemed a bit convenient, I absolutely loved the tale anyway, hoping against hope that there would be a satisfactory resolution. Five stars.

SERENDIPITOUS WEDNESDAYS: WAITING ON “THE CAT” — FEB. 13

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Good morning, Blog World!  Welcome to another Serendipitous Wednesday, in which we celebrate the books we are eagerly anticipating.  Join our host,  Jill, at Breaking the Spine.

Today I’m sharing about a book that grabbed my attention awhile ago.  The Cat, by Edeet Ravel, a story of loss and learning how to go on afterwards, will be released on March 26, 2013.

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SINGLE MOTHER ELISE IS completely devoted to her eleven-year-old son; he is her whole world. But that world is destroyed in one terrifying moment when her son is killed in a car accident just outside their home. Suddenly alone, surrounded by memories, Elise faces a future that feels unspeakably bleak—and pointless.

Lost, angry, and desolate, Elise rejects everyone who tries to reach out to her. But as despair threatens to engulf her, she realizes, to her horror, that she cannot join her son: She must take care of his beloved cat. At first she attempts to carry out this task entirely by herself, shut away from a frightening new reality that seems surreal and incomprehensible. But isolation proves to be impossible, and before long others insinuate themselves into her life—friends, enemies, colleagues, neighbors, a former lover—bringing with them the fragile beginnings of survival.

Powerfully moving and deeply humane, The Cat is an unforgettable novel about the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit.

***

What do you think?  I know I’m eager to read this, because I thoroughly connect to stories about resilience after tragedy.