REVIEW: THE NANNY, BY GILLY MACMILLAN

 

When her beloved nanny, Hannah, left without a trace in the summer of 1988, seven-year-old Jocelyn Holt was devastated. Haunted by the loss, Jo grew up bitter and distant, and eventually left her parents and Lake Hall, their faded aristocratic home, behind.

Thirty years later, Jo returns to the house and is forced to confront her troubled relationship with her mother. But when human remains are accidentally uncovered in a lake on the estate, Jo begins to question everything she thought she knew.

Then an unexpected visitor knocks on the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again. Desperate to piece together the gaping holes in her memory, Jo must uncover who her nanny really was, why she left, and if she can trust her own mother…

My Thoughts: Alternating narrators and flip-flops between the past and present take us on our journey in The Nanny. Just when we think we’ve figured out who to believe, or who is the most reliable narrator, one of them adds a twist to the stories they tell, offering another dimension. Soon we don’t know who, if anyone, to trust.

As we follow the paths exposed by each character, we learn more and more of their secrets. In the end, will the darkest secrets tell us who we can trust and who to avoid?

I enjoyed traipsing along with the characters, guessing about what we will learn next. By the time we turn the final pages, we will be stunned by how the tale concludes. 5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: THE TESTAMENTS, BY MARGARET ATWOOD

 

More than fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results.

Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets.

As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead as each woman is forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

My Thoughts: As I began reading The Testaments, I was captivated immediately by the alternating voices: witnesses and a person who would soon become known to us as someone plotting the downfall of Gilead. A feat that would require great strength, wisdom, and cunning. I was rooting loudly as I read.

The young witnesses would soon make us aware of their connections to others we met in Gilead, back when we saw how a Handmaiden would help the Gilead destruction begin.

Would our double agent surprise us with her actions? Would we fear for what might happen to her if discovered? Or would we, like others, realize the extent of her involvement only when historic symposiums revealed much of what she had accomplished, many years later? A brilliant futuristic exploration that had me rapidly turning pages. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE STRANGER INSIDE, BY LISA UNGER

 

Even good people are drawn to do evil things … Twelve-year-old Rain Winter narrowly escaped an abduction while walking to a friend’s house. Her two best friends, Tess and Hank, were not as lucky. Tess never came home, and Hank was held in captivity before managing to escape. Their abductor was sent to prison but years later was released. Then someone delivered real justice–and killed him in cold blood.

Now Rain is living the perfect suburban life, her dark childhood buried deep. She spends her days as a stay-at-home mom, having put aside her career as a hard-hitting journalist to care for her infant daughter. But when another brutal murderer who escaped justice is found dead, Rain is unexpectedly drawn into the case. Eerie similarities to the murder of her friends’ abductor force Rain to revisit memories she’s worked hard to leave behind. Is there a vigilante at work? Who is the next target? Why can’t Rain just let it go?

My Thoughts: Alternating narrators tell the story of The Stranger Inside. We follow Hank, Lara (Rain), and Tess, from their childhood moments and beyond the tragedy of their young lives.

Hank’s perspective is interesting, in that he seemingly speaks to “Lara” as he tells his story, a chronicle of his adult life as a therapist in conflict with the dark part he hides inside. We watch as Rain combines marriage and motherhood while reclaiming a part of her story and her trauma as she resumes her career as a journalist.

What is the connection between their horrific past and the sudden murders of perpetrators around them? Are they involved somehow? As the story draws to a conclusion, there are still unanswered questions, and we wonder if the darkness ever subsides. A page turner that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WITHOUT A DOUBT, BY MARCIA CLARK

 

Marcia Clark takes us inside her head and her heart. Her voice is raw, incisive, disarming, unmistakable. Her story is both sweeping and deeply personal. It is the story of a woman who, when caught up in an event that galvanized an entire country, rose to that occasion with singular integrity, drive, honesty and grace.

In a case that tore America apart, and that continues to haunt us as few events of history have, Marcia Clark emerged as the only true heroine, because she stood for justice, fought the good fight, and fought it well.

 

 

My Thoughts: I eagerly approached Without a Doubt, having seen portions of the trial and the miniseries based on the trial; I have also read Marcia Clark’s mystery fiction, so I already knew that I could connect to her voice.

Her account of the trial and its preparation was presented intelligently and with a touch of personal drama, which gave her story a special appeal to me. Even as I knew how it all turned out, I was eager to watch it unfold through her revelations of the long months leading up to the verdict.

I could feel how personally affected Clark was as the defense Dream Team twisted events, focused on their conspiracy theories, and played the race card over and over. The inability of Judge Lance Ito to take control of the defense attorneys added to the frustration I felt on behalf of the prosecution attorneys. Marcia Clark wrote: “We lost because American justice is distorted by race. We lost because American justice is corrupted by celebrity. Any lawyer willing to exploit those weaknesses can convince a jury predisposed to acquittal of just about anything.” In the OJ case, “a handful of expensive attorneys were allowed to manipulate the system by invoking the wholly irrelevant, yet provocative issue of racism.”

Time has revealed the error of those touting Simpson’s innocence in that his numerous poor choices afterwards have lent credence to the guilt many believed in. A compelling book that earned 5 stars for me.

***

REVIEW: SEVEN LETTERS, BY J. P MONNINGER

 

Kate Moreton is in Ireland on sabbatical from her teaching position at Dartmouth College when she meets Ozzie Ferriter, a fisherman and a veteran of the American war in Afghanistan. The Ferriter family history dates back centuries on the remote Blasket Islands, and Ozzie—a dual citizen of Ireland and the United States—has retreated to the one place that might offer him peace from a war he cannot seem to leave behind.

Beside the sea, with Ireland’s beauty as a backdrop, the two fall deeply in love and attempt to live on an island of their own making, away from the pressures of the outside world. Ireland writes its own love stories, the legends claim, and the limits of Kate and Ozzie’s love and faith in each other will be tested. When his demons lead Ozzie to become reckless with his life—and Kate’s—she flees for America rather than watch the man she loves self-destruct. But soon a letter arrives informing Kate that her heroic husband has been lost at sea, and Kate must decide whether it is an act of love to follow him or an act of mercy to forget.

My Thoughts: As I followed along with Kate’s journey in Ireland, I was soon caught up in her unexpected love connection with Ozzie. The two of them were captivating, frustrating, and soon they were broken.

Seven Letters showed us the path to their love, their loss of each other, and how Kate tried to move on.

The story was one that revealed the beauty of Ireland, followed by the lovely cabin Kate bought in New Hampshire after she and Ozzie separated. At times, there were quick leaps between events, and I sometimes felt lost. But overall, I couldn’t stop reading and wondering what would eventually happen to the two of them. In the end, I was pleased by the culmination of events. 4 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE LAST WIDOW, BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

 

A mysterious kidnapping

On a hot summer night, a scientist from the Centers for Disease Control is grabbed by unknown assailants in a shopping center parking lot. The authorities are desperate to save the doctor who’s been vanished into thin air.

A devastating explosion

One month later, the serenity of a sunny Sunday afternoon is shattered by the boom of a ground-shaking blast—followed by another seconds later. One of Atlanta’s busiest and most important neighborhoods has been bombed—the location of Emory University, two major hospitals, the FBI headquarters, and the CDC.

A diabolical enemy

Medical examiner Sara Linton and her partner Will Trent, an investigator with the Georgia Bu-reau of Investigation, rush to the scene—and into the heart of a deadly conspiracy that threatens to destroy thousands of innocent lives. When the assailants abduct Sara, Will goes undercover to save her and prevent a massacre—putting his own life on the line for the woman and the country he loves.

My Thoughts: The Last Widow is another timely story that brings out familiar themes of the current day: domestic terrorism, white supremacy, and the hate-filled groups that show up daily on our TV screens, reminding us of the battles still to be won.

What will our characters do to fight for what they love and prevent the mass destruction that lurks behind every corner? What must Will Trent and Sara Linton do to save each other?

An intense story that kept me rapidly turning pages even as I hated the cult leaders and their methods and eschewed their belief systems. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE LONG CALL, BY ANN CLEEVES

 

In North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea, Detective Matthew Venn stands outside the church as his estranged father’s funeral takes place. On the day Matthew left the strict evangelical community he grew up in, he lost his family too.

Now, as he turns and walks away again, he receives a call from one of his team. A body has been found on the beach nearby: a man with a tattoo of an albatross on his neck, stabbed to death.

The case calls Matthew back to the people and places of his past, as deadly secrets hidden at their hearts are revealed, and his new life is forced into a collision course with the world he thought he’d left behind.

 

My Thoughts: The Long Call reeled me in from the first page, showing the characters, the settings, and the intensity of the interactions between them all. The sea, the village, and the inhabitants felt like additional players in the story.

A murder brings Matthew Venn into his own past and the people who cast him away due to his rejection of their beliefs. Would he be able to stay objective when their paths collided?

His investigation takes him more deeply into the Woodyard, a day care facility where his partner Jonathan works, and where the victim also spent time as a chef.

As he probes the activities of the various administrators, volunteers, and employees, we start to see how so many things are connected. It is a challenge to sort through the clues and the people involved, and for a while, I was suspicious of almost everyone. In the end, I was stunned…and then not so much. The conspiracy ran deep, its tentacles reaching out to engulf so many. A five star read for me.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

REVIEW: AFTER THE END, BY CLARE MACKINTOSH

 

Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re best friends, lovers—unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors put the question of his survival into their hands. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son.

What if they could have both?

A gripping and propulsive exploration of love, marriage, parenthood, and the road not taken, After the End brings one unforgettable family from unimaginable loss to a surprising, satisfying, and redemptive ending and the life they are fated to find. With the emotional power of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Mackintosh helps us to see that sometimes the end is just another beginning.

 

My Thoughts: After the End is an emotional story that spotlights a family in crisis. Alternating between the perspectives of Pip, Max, and even Leila, the doctor in the middle of it all, we follow the before and after moments of Dylan’s life.

We are thrust into a legal battle, a media circus, and an emotional tug of war that heightens the intensity of the crisis and the family pain.

I couldn’t stop reading the story of Pip, Max, and Dylan, although the leaps on the timeline were a little confusing. We went back and then forward so often that I felt a little lost…until I decided to just flow with the events and immerse myself in the moments.

As the story came to its conclusion, I did feel connected to the characters and will not forget them. 4.5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE GIRL HE USED TO KNOW, BY TRACEY GARVIS GRAVES

 

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people’s behavior confusing, she’d rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game—and his heart—to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She’s living the life she wanted as a librarian. He’s a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

My Thoughts: The Girl He Used to Know takes the reader back and forth in time, between 2001, when Annika and Jonathan serendipitously reconnected, to 1991 when they were in college.

Annika’s social anxiety and other issues seemed to trigger the protective, nurturing aspects in Jonathan. But were they destined to fail back then? Can they sort through the issues and do better this time?

As Annika and Jonathan alternately tell their story, we learn more about them and the events that separated them in the past. Moving forward, with the help of a therapist for Annika, we come to understand her struggles and how she has worked to overcome them, and how the two of them have grown and changed.

August 2001 was a significant time period for them to reconnect, as something traumatic loomed on the horizon for them that would require all of their strength to overcome. An emotional ending kept me turning pages as I could not help but root for the two of them. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NIGHT VISITORS, BY CAROL GOODMAN

 

ALICE gets off a bus in the middle of a snowstorm in Delphi, NY. She is fleeing an abusive relationship and desperate to protect…

OREN, ten years old, a major Star Wars fan and wise beyond his years. Though Alice is wary, Oren bonds nearly instantly with…

MATTIE, a social worker in her fifties who lives in an enormous run-down house in the middle of the woods. Mattie lives alone and is always available, and so she is the person the hotline always calls when they need a late-night pickup. And although according to protocol Mattie should take Alice and Oren to a local shelter, instead she brings them home for the night. She has plenty of room, she says. What she doesn’t say is that Oren reminds her of her little brother, who died thirty years ago at the age of ten.

But Mattie isn’t the only one withholding elements of the truth. Alice is keeping her own secrets. And as the snowstorm worsens around them, each woman’s past will prove itself unburied, stirring up threats both within and without.

My Thoughts: I was immediately swept up into the drama of The Night Visitors as Alice and Oren get off the bus and are pulled into the unknown life ahead of them. Fleeing abuse, but not sure who they can trust, Alice braces herself against the challenges ahead.

Alice and Mattie’s stories are told in alternating narratives, and we learn more about their lives and their experiences as their stories unfold.

I could relate to Mattie, having had a career in social work. Her own family life was full of secrets and dark judgments, so I could empathize with how she had struggled.

Alice’s secrets brought darkness into their new lives, and because she wasn’t sure if she could trust Mattie, she almost lost the opportunity to accept the good offered to her.

Mysteries seemed to lurk in the old Victorian house where Mattie offers refuge, and I liked the “ghostly elements” in the story. In the end, I was happy that many of the issues were resolved for the characters. 4.5 stars.

***