REVIEW: TAKE IT BACK, BY KIA ABDULLAH

One victim.
Four accused.
Who is telling the truth?

Zara Kaleel, one of London’s brightest legal minds, shattered the expectations placed on her by her family and forged a brilliant legal career. But her decisions came at a high cost, and now, battling her own demons, she has exchanged her high profile career for a job at a sexual assault center, helping victims who need her the most. Victims like Jodie Wolfe.

When Jodie, a sixteen-year-old girl with facial deformities, accuses four boys in her class of an unthinkable crime, the community is torn apart. After all, these four teenage defendants are from hard-working immigrant families and they all have proven alibis. Even Jodie’s best friend doesn’t believe her.

But Zara does—and she is determined to fight for Jodie—to find the truth in the face of public outcry. And as issues of sex, race and social justice collide, the most explosive criminal trial of the year builds to a shocking conclusion.

Take It Back sums up the complexities of truth and lies, bigotry, and fighting for right against the divisions in society.

From the beginning, I was caught up in Zara’s role as an advocate for women victimized by men, but also by the world in which they live.

Jodie was a character difficult to relate to, as there were so many little tells along the way. Was she bending the truth? Did she have a deeper psychological need that would alter the course of events?

Then, just as I thought that I knew the answers, everything spun in a whole new direction. An engaging story that kept me intrigued until the end, this one earned 4.5 stars.

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

REVIEW: INVISIBLE GIRL, BY LISA JEWELL

Owen Pick’s life is falling apart. In his thirties and living in his aunt’s spare bedroom, he has just been suspended from his job as a teacher after accusations of sexual misconduct—accusations he strongly denies. Searching for professional advice online, he is inadvertently sucked into the dark world of incel forums, where he meets a charismatic and mysterious figure.

Across the street from Owen lives the Fours family, headed by mom Cate, a physiotherapist, and dad Roan, a child psychologist. But the Fours family have a bad feeling about their neighbor Owen. He’s a bit creepy and their teenaged daughter swears he followed her home from the train station one night.

Meanwhile, young Saffyre Maddox spent three years as a patient of Roan Fours. Feeling abandoned when their therapy ends, she searches for other ways to maintain her connection with him, following him in the shadows and learning more than she wanted to know about Roan and his family. Then, on Valentine’s night, Saffyre disappears—and the last person to see her alive is Owen Pick.

 

Invisible Girl introduces the characters in alternating sections, beginning with a young girl who likes to hide out and watch people. She is called Saffyre Maddox and she has been in therapy with another character, Roan Fours, whom she likes to follow and watch, along with his family. What is going on behind her actions, and what happens to her one night when she suddenly goes missing?

Meanwhile, we learn more about Cate, Roan’s wife, along with her teenage children, Josh and Georgia. Their lives seem normal enough, but Cate worries a lot about them and her husband Roan, who has given her reasons to mistrust him at times.

Saffyre’s story unfolds slowly, until we begin to fill in the missing pieces of what happened to her. Even as she emerges from her “invisibility,” other puzzling tidbits come to light about other characters: like Owen and his true story; about a man who hurt Saffyre years before; and about Roan’s secrets. In the end, there was a stunning reveal. 5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: REMAIN SILENT, BY SUSIE STEINER

Newly married and navigating life with a preschooler as well as her adopted adolescent son, Manon Bradshaw is happy to be working part-time in the cold cases department of the Cambridgeshire police force, a job that allows her to potter in, coffee in hand, and log on for a spot of Internet shopping—precisely what she had in mind when she thought of work-life balance. But beneath the surface Manon is struggling with the day-to-day realities of what she’d assumed would be domestic bliss: fights about whose turn it is to clean the kitchen, the bewildering fatigue of having a young child while in her forties, and the fact that she is going to couples counseling alone because her husband feels it would just be her complaining.

But when Manon is on a walk with her four-year-old son in a peaceful suburban neighborhood and discovers the body of a Lithuanian immigrant hanging from a tree with a mysterious note attached, she knows her life is about to change. Suddenly, she is back on the job full-force, trying to solve the suicide—or is it a murder—in what may be the most dangerous and demanding case of her life.

 

I like the character Manon Bradshaw, having read and enjoyed previous books in the series.  Her internal monologues are astute and sometimes funny, while her diligence on the job shows through, even when she sometimes feels frustrated by her colleagues and her superior officer who seems bent on changing the way Manon does her job.

Manon’s coworker Davy is another character from previous books, and Remain Silent is told between the two of them via alternating narratives.

Will Manon eventually discover the answers in the strange case involving immigrants and slave labor?  Can she find her way to balancing her home and work life?  Another story that I enjoyed, and which earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: LIFE IN PIECES, BY DAWN O’PORTER

From reflections on grief and identity, bad hair and parenting, sleep and spirituality, to the things we can control and the things we cannot, Dawn has been doing a lot of thinking about life in lockdown. Mostly from a cupboard. Discover the daily diaries that track the journey – for a hilarious, heartbreaking and highly entertaining glimpse into the new normal.

‘There’s been a lot of well-meaning but mad advice on how to contend with the strangest period of human history any of us has ever lived through. Dawn O’Porter redresses the balance by telling it as it really has been: holding out for 5pm to crack open the tequila’ Mark Watson

As soon as I began reading Life in Pieces, I was smiling and sometimes laughing at her view of 2020. Unlike her, I am not a mother of small children, but a senior citizen; however, having been in that role, I could definitely imagine how the year would play out from her perspective.

Her occasional jabs at those in charge in this strange new world particularly resonated with me. None of us are happy to learn that politics has played such a role in how events unfolded for us.

Now I am just hoping to make it through the year…and beyond, if necessary, but it is great to read books like this one along the way.

I like her description of events: “I am speaking to my family more. I am working on my marriage more. I am nesting, organizing, preparing for disaster, making sure that, if the world goes to shit, we will survive. I am loving harder than I’ve ever loved in my life. I was alone with my grief, but now the whole world is grieving too. A solidarity that we can’t deny.”

I love when a book pulls it all together so nicely, reminding us that, in the midst of uncertainty and chaos, there is a silver lining. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THREE PERFECT LIARS, BY HEIDI PERKS

Laura has returned to work at Morris and Wood after her maternity leave, only to discover that the woman she brought in to cover for her isn’t planning on going anywhere. Despite her close relationship with the agency’s powerful CEO, Harry Wood, she feels sidelined—and outmaneuvered—as she struggles to balance the twin demands of work and motherhood.

Mia was only supposed to be a temporary hire at Morris and Wood, but she’s managed to make herself indispensable to everyone. Everyone, that is, except Laura. If people only knew why she was so desperate to keep her job, they might not want her to stay.

Janie gave up everything to support her husband and the successful agency he runs. But she has her own dark secret to protect…and will go to any lengths to keep it safe.


As I followed along with the alternating narratives in Three Perfect Liars, I was drawn in by each of the women. I could easily see each point of view, so that I knew I would have to choose one of them by the end of the story.Or were they all equally compelling?

The story also takes us to occasional interviews with investigators, who are trying to determine the cause of a massive fire that takes out the company at the center of the tale. Back and forth we go as the timeline carries us along for a ride.

As much as I wanted to find the answers to each woman’s secrets, the story plodded along with few hints until we approached the final denouement. Who would come out the winner, or would there be none? Who started the fire and whose body was discovered? 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: FINAL CUT, BY S.J. WATSON

 

They tried to hide the truth. But the camera never lies…

Blackwood Bay. An ordinary place, home to ordinary people.

It used to be a buzzing seaside destination. But now, ravaged by the effects of dwindling tourism and economic downturn, it’s a ghost town—and the perfect place for film-maker Alex to shoot her new documentary. But the community is deeply suspicious of her intentions. After all, nothing exciting ever happens in Blackwood Bay—or does it?

When I first picked up Final Cut, I was intrigued with the opening scenes of a girl on the beach, suffering from amnesia and a mysterious past. A girl who renames herself Alex.

Years later, she is a filmmaker about to return to the scenes from the past and the strange mystery of girls who have disappeared and/or died. Is Alex one of those girls? What will she remember as she explores the events of the past, along with those in the present? What can she learn from watching clips of old films and documentaries?

Unfortunately, the story moves along so slowly that even the twists and turns don’t really keep me invested. I wanted to love this book and kept reading because I did want to know what happened. And I was glad to finally have some answers. But I can only give this book 3.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HOME BEFORE DARK, BY RILEY SAGER

 

What was it like? Living in that house.

Maggie Holt is used to such questions. Twenty-five years ago, she and her parents, Ewan and Jess, moved into Baneberry Hall, a rambling Victorian estate in the Vermont woods. They spent three weeks there before fleeing in the dead of night, an ordeal Ewan later recounted in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors. His tale of ghostly happenings and encounters with malevolent spirits became a worldwide phenomenon, rivaling The Amityville Horror in popularity—and skepticism.

Today, Maggie is a restorer of old homes and too young to remember any of the events mentioned in her father’s book. But she also doesn’t believe a word of it. Ghosts, after all, don’t exist. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she returns to renovate the place to prepare it for sale. But her homecoming is anything but warm. People from the past, chronicled in House of Horrors, lurk in the shadows. And locals aren’t thrilled that their small town has been made infamous thanks to Maggie’s father. Even more unnerving is Baneberry Hall itself—a place filled with relics from another era that hint at a history of dark deeds. As Maggie experiences strange occurrences straight out of her father’s book, she starts to believe that what he wrote was more fact than fiction.

When Maggie returns to Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she is hoping to finally settle in her mind what really happened back then, when they lived in the house her father wrote about. Had he written lies, or were the things he wrote about true?

Home Before Dark is narrated alternately by Maggie’s father Ewan, back when the family lived in the house, and Maggie herself as she tries to sort through the discoveries she makes in the present.

Were her family members victims of some ghostly creatures back then? Are the strange events that continue even to this day part of something supernatural?

An enticing tale that kept me turning pages, I was surprised by how all the events unfolded. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: PARIS NEVER LEAVES YOU, BY ELLEN FELDMAN

Living through World War II working in a Paris bookstore with her young daughter, Vivi, and fighting for her life, Charlotte is no victim, she is a survivor. But can she survive the next chapter of her life?

Alternating between wartime Paris and 1950s New York publishing, Ellen Feldman’s Paris Never Leaves You is an extraordinary story of resilience, love, and impossible choices, exploring how survival never comes without a cost.

The war is over, but the past is never past.

Paris Never Leaves You was a breathtaking story of one woman’s journey during a troublesome time in the world. When Charlotte and her young daughter Vivi do what they have to do to survive the hard times, while still finding comfort where they can, she had no idea that the next chapter in her life would force her to accept some unpleasant truths about how she survived and how she would explain those years to her daughter.

When Charlotte starts her new life in New York City, working in a publishing house under a sponsorship from an American publisher, she follows the credo that some secrets are best kept to oneself. But Vivi probes for answers about their lives in Paris, their heritage, and any other moments that can make her feel a part of something.

Will Charlotte be able to finally tell her true story to Vivi and to others? How will she accept the part of herself and her life that she finds unpalatable?

Charlotte discovers that doing what you have to do to stay alive might be unpleasant or hard to accept, but that very acceptance can also be liberating and a way forward. A 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: JUST BETWEEN US, BY REBECCA DRAKE

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a crime and a mystery that will consume them all.

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah, compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret, the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

 

In Just Between Us, the friendship between four suburban women deepens when they believe one of them is being abused.

They step up and band together to encourage her to leave her husband and to get help. She refuses. Then one night, tragedy comes to them all as they are caught up in keeping a dreadful secret that will lead to so much more danger than any of them could have imagined.

At what cost will they keep protecting their friend? Will they discover that there is so much more to her story, and will they all finally pay the price?

So many twists along the way kept me reading and hoping for a good outcome. The story has multiple narrators, and sometimes I lost track of whose voice I was reading, but I could not put the book down. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: FRIENDS & STRANGERS, BY J. COURTNEY SULLIVAN

 

Elisabeth, an accomplished journalist and new mother, is struggling to adjust to life in a small town after nearly twenty years in New York City. Alone in the house with her infant son all day (and awake with him much of the night), she feels uneasy, adrift. She neglects her work, losing untold hours to her Brooklyn moms’ Facebook group, her “influencer” sister’s Instagram feed, and text messages with the best friend she never sees anymore. Enter Sam, a senior at the local women’s college, whom Elisabeth hires to babysit. Sam is struggling to decide between the path she’s always planned on and a romantic entanglement that threatens her ambition. She’s worried about student loan debt and what the future holds. In short order, they grow close. But when Sam finds an unlikely kindred spirit in Elisabeth’s father-in-law, the true differences between the women’s lives become starkly revealed and a betrayal has devastating consequences.

A masterful exploration of motherhood, power dynamics, and privilege in its many forms, Friends and Strangers reveals how a single year can shape the course of a life.


I loved the primary characters in Friends and Strangers, and how their connection started during one difficult year when each of the two women was exploring major changes in their lives. Their relationship morphs to one of friendship, but will they cross lines along the way?

Elisabeth is still struggling with whether or not to have another child, something she doesn’t really want, but she doesn’t have the courage to openly confront her feelings and the possible ramifications.

Sam is in a love relationship that is seemingly fraught and possibly inappropriate, but her need to move into her adult life with everything “sorted,” like she believes Elisabeth’s life has been settled, propels her into decisions that may upend her life and her plans in unexpected ways.

By the end, the crossed lines will ultimately change everything, but is it possible that what they meant to each other will have changed them in positive ways, too?

I didn’t want the year to end things between them, but like most seemingly important relationships that happen at crucial turning points, that year did serve its purpose. The friendship will have been important to each of them, turning significant and sentimental moments into treasures to cherish. 5 stars.

***