REVIEW: HER PRETTY FACE, BY ROBYN HARDING

 

Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.

A stay-at-home mom whose troubled son is her full-time job, she thought that the day he got accepted into the elite Forrester Academy would be the day she started living her life. Overweight, insecure, and lonely, she is desperate to fit into Forrester’s world. But after a disturbing incident at the school leads the other children and their families to ostracize the Metcalfes, she feels more alone than ever before.

Until she meets Kate Randolph.

Kate is everything Frances is not: beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and confident. And for some reason, she’s not interested in being friends with any of the other Forrester moms—only Frances. As the two bond over their disdain of the Forrester snobs and the fierce love they have for their sons, a startling secret threatens to tear them apart.

Because one of these women is not who she seems.

My Thoughts: Her Pretty Face opens with an article from 1996: a teenager was murdered in Arizona. What, if anything, connects these happenings to the current day characters?

I could empathize with Frances and how she has been ostracized by the other school moms due to something her son Marcus did. One can sense that she has had her own experiences from childhood that set her apart…if she could only talk about those events.

So when the gorgeous and wealthy Kate offers friendship, and their sons get along, which really helps Marcus begin to settle into the school, Frances feels connected and understood for the first time ever. Something had happened in her own past that led to her feelings of alienation.

In a back and forth storyline that begins to reveal more from the past events, I could see where the plot was taking us…and then was stunned by the final revelations. Daisy, Kate’s teenage daughter, gave an alternating narrative that led us to a greater understanding of the characters and their secrets, while intriguing us with more questions.

A riveting 5 star read.

***
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REVIEW: OPEN YOUR EYES, BY PAULA DALY

 

Jane Campbell avoids confrontation at any costs. Given the choice, she’ll always let her husband, Leon―a bestselling crime writer―take the lead, while she focuses on her two precious young children and her job as a creative writing teacher. After she receives another rejection for her novel, Leon urges Jane to put her hobby to rest. And why shouldn’t she, when through Jane’s rose-tinted glasses, they appear to have the perfect house and the perfect life?

But then Leon is brutally attacked in their driveway while their children wait quietly in the car, and suddenly, their perfect life becomes the stuff of nightmares. Who would commit such a hateful offense in broad daylight? With her husband in a coma, Jane must open her eyes to the problems in her life, as well as the secrets that have been kept from her. Although she might not like what she sees, if she’s committed to discovering who hurt her husband―and why―Jane must take matters into her own hands.

 

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Paula Daly, so I was eager to read Open Your Eyes. From the very beginning, I was caught up in the lives of Jane and her husband Leon. What happened to him upended their lives, and as I rapidly turned the pages, I kept asking myself who among their acquaintances would have done such a horrendous thing? But as Jane makes discoveries and realizes the extent of Leon’s secrets, she is afraid. And when the police seem to be looking in all the wrong directions, Jane tries to figure some of it out on her own. But will her efforts take her into more dangerous places?

I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next, so the pages flew by. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the answers came seemingly out of nowhere. I loved how the twists and turns took us into the dark side of the publishing world. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: IN PIECES, BY SALLY FIELD

 

One of the most celebrated, beloved, and enduring actors of our time, Sally Field has an infectious charm that has captivated the nation for more than five decades, beginning with her first TV role at the age of seventeen. From Gidget’s sweet-faced “girl next door” to the dazzling complexity of Sybil to the Academy Award-worthy ferocity and depth of Norma Rae and Mary Todd Lincoln, Field has stunned audiences time and time again with her artistic range and emotional acuity. Yet there is one character who always remained hidden: the shy and anxious little girl within.

With raw honesty and the fresh, pitch-perfect prose of a natural-born writer, and with all the humility and authenticity her fans have come to expect, Field brings readers behind-the-scenes for not only the highs and lows of her star-studded early career in Hollywood, but deep into the truth of her lifelong relationships—including her complicated love for her own mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

My Thoughts: A fan of Sally Field since her early days on TV, I felt immediately drawn to her first person narrative, beginning with her family history of matriarchal women whose lives were an example of love, connections, flaws and strength.

Her struggles as a child, dealing with the twisted relationship with her stepfather, resonated with me, having read about some of these experiences in part, but which I learned in depth In Pieces.

Her beginnings as an actor were not easy, and she had to persist to finally discover her niche. And when she did find her place as an actor, a woman, and she revealed how she finally connected to her seemingly elusive mother, I could relax and enjoy learning about her life and her work, and how memorable it would all be in the end. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WATCHING YOU, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Melville Heights is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England; home to doctors and lawyers and old-money academics. It’s not the sort of place where people are brutally murdered in their own kitchens. But it is the sort of place where everyone has a secret. And everyone is watching you.

As the headmaster credited with turning around the local school, Tom Fitzwilliam is beloved by one and all—including Joey Mullen, his new neighbor, who quickly develops an intense infatuation with this thoroughly charming yet unavailable man. Joey thinks her crush is a secret, but Tom’s teenaged son Freddie—a prodigy with aspirations of becoming a spy for MI5—excels in observing people and has witnessed Joey behaving strangely around his father.

One of Tom’s students, Jenna Tripp, also lives on the same street, and she’s not convinced her teacher is as squeaky clean as he seems. For one thing, he has taken a particular liking to her best friend and fellow classmate, and Jenna’s mother—whose mental health has admittedly been deteriorating in recent years—is convinced that Mr. Fitzwilliam is stalking her.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier, a schoolgirl writes in her diary, charting her doomed obsession with a handsome young English teacher named Mr. Fitzwilliam…

 

My Thoughts: From the beginning of Watching You, there is a hint of impropriety and deep dark secrets, and when the handsome and charming Tom Fitzwilliam strides through the town and seems to thrive on the attention he gets, you just know that bad things are going to happen.

The story unfolds in alternating narratives, and slipped into the story are the investigative notes of a detective who is trying to solve a murder case.

I liked that not everyone thought Tom Fitzwilliam was so perfect. Jenna’s mother seemed to have him figured out. Unfortunately, some of her ramblings made others think she was mentally ill, and perhaps she was. But that didn’t necessarily mean that her conclusions were wrong.

Then there is the young girl Jenna, and she wasn’t fooled by Tom, and red flags went up for her when she watched him.

Tom’s son Freddie is also quite the observer. He photographs his subjects, those who interest him.

What will all the watching lead to? What will each of the residents decide about Tom? Could there be secrets from the past that will be revealed in a startling way? Who is the killer and who is the victim? Just when I thought I had it figured out, the author turns it all on its head, and then I thought: But of course! 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: FEAR: TRUMP IN THE WHITE HOUSE, BY BOB WOODWARD

 

With authoritative reporting honed through eight presidencies from Nixon to Obama, author Bob Woodward reveals in unprecedented detail the harrowing life inside President Donald Trump’s White House and precisely how he makes decisions on major foreign and domestic policies. Woodward draws from hundreds of hours of interviews with firsthand sources, meeting notes, personal diaries, files and documents. The focus is on the explosive debates and the decision-making in the Oval Office, the Situation Room, Air Force One and the White House residence.

Fear is the most intimate portrait of a sitting president ever published during the president’s first years in office.

 

My Thoughts: I will admit that I was devastated by the outcome of the 2016 election. But I was also hoping that, somehow, Trump would surprise us. That we would discover layers of integrity and competence beneath the blustering façade he loved to show the world. His Twitter madness was a sign, to me, though…there were no hidden depths.

Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward, pulled me in and validated what I was already seeing. As the author revealed interviews and observations that confirmed the chaos behind those doors, I had to keep reading. Was there a ray of hope somewhere?

Instead, as time marched on, the chaos grew, and the staff around the president worked hard to try to manage and contain his worst impulses. They had numerous processes to help keep him on track, since their advice most often fell on deaf ears. He didn’t like to read, he didn’t listen, and he clung to his own belief system, ideas that he had held for many years. He believed that he had good instincts and should follow them, rather than to listen to those with expertise and wisdom. His temper tantrums were often punctuated by damaging Twitter rants, or firing of those who were trying to help him.

His day to day operations showed an unraveling, like a Trump rally on a continuous loop.

Staff complained about how, in his persistence of his ideas, they had to constantly explain to him and justify their positions. In frustration, some said he had the understanding of a fifth or sixth grader.

Attorney Dowd fought hard against Trump being interviewed by Mueller, finally resigning over his inability to persuade the president. That issue is still unresolved. These thoughts at the end summed up some major issues:

“In the man and his presidency, Dowd had seen the tragic flaw. In the political back-and-forth, the evasions, the denials, the tweeting, the obscuring, crying ‘Fake News,’ the indignation, Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew but could not bring himself to say to the president: ‘You’re a f…king liar.’

A brilliant 5 star read that left me frightened, but sometimes hopeful: that perhaps calmer heads would prevail…or at some point, someone could put an end to it all.

***

REVIEW: CROSS HER HEART, BY SARAH PINBOROUGH

 

Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job and her best friend Marilyn.

But when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him, too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go.

But when her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see, Lisa’s world explodes.

As she finds everything she has built threatened, and not knowing who she can trust, it’s up to Lisa to face her past in order to save what she holds dear.

But someone has been pulling all their strings. And that someone is determined that both Lisa and Ava must suffer.

Because long ago Lisa broke a promise. And some promises aren’t meant to be broken.

My Thoughts: From the first pages of Cross Her Heart, we can sense something that regularly niggles at Lisa, our MC. Some dark secret from the past that she has tucked away carefully, which makes her seem overly obsessive about some things. Her teenage daughter Ava resents how carefully her mother guards her, as if danger lurks.

When her dark past is revealed after photos are shown in the news, we are still not completely sure about those secrets. Throughout the story, I felt there was a lot more to the past; secrets even Lisa kept to herself back then. Some events she doesn’t even remember clearly. As we rapidly turn the pages, going back and forth in time, we learn more about what really happened all those years ago…and what someone is doing to torture Lisa in the present.

Now she must find the secret tormentor, someone she believes is out there, despite the evidence that suggests otherwise. What will Lisa do to finally put the past to rest? How will her BFF Marilyn help her?

I loved how the characters fought for the truth…and for peace with the past. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE, BY GAIL HONEYMAN

 

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. 

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .
 
The only way to survive is to open your heart. 

My Thoughts: I had heard such good things about Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, so I was not surprised to find myself irresistibly drawn to this socially awkward yet brilliant young woman. Her routines seemed to define her, and I could understand how reassuring they were. She seemingly denied any problems or issues, assuring everyone repeatedly that she was fine. Being alone and apparently friendless was a way to show her strength and her capability.

But along the way, as Eleanor began to long for someone special in her life, she built up a fantasy life around a handsome singer, and started changing her appearance, from hair and makeup to new clothes, to make herself more appealing. She was also becoming friends with Raymond, the somewhat strange IT colleague, and gradually began to join him for lunches, outings, and even parties. She bloomed.

But then something happens that topples her carefully constructed reality…and she has to accept help. At last.

I loved how we learned bits and pieces about her life, through her first person narrative. But she kept most of her secrets close to her vest until finally, through therapy, she could confront the pain and trauma of the past. I loved Eleanor, and wanted to keep reading about her. I am looking forward to the movie. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT, BY MARY KUBICA

 

Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that causes her to doubt everything she’s ever known.

Finding herself suddenly at the center of a bizarre mystery, Jessie tumbles down a rabbit hole, which is only exacerbated by grief and a relentless lack of sleep. As days pass and the insomnia worsens, it plays with Jessie’s mind. Her judgment is blurred, her thoughts are hampered by fatigue. Jessie begins to see things until she can no longer tell the difference between what’s real and what she’s only imagined.

Meanwhile, twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, another woman’s split-second decision may hold the key to Jessie’s secret past. Has Jessie’s whole life been a lie or have her delusions gotten the best of her?

My Thoughts: From the first page of When the Lights Go Out, I thought that I had a good grip on where this story was going. Narrated by two characters, twenty years apart, we slowly learn the story of a mother and a daughter. But the bizarre twists and turns lead us to scratch our heads and ponder everything we thought we knew.

Who is Jessica Sloane? What secrets did her mother, Eden, keep from her, and why? How did Jessica’s grief lead her down some very uncertain pathways? Has Jessica been living with a stolen identity? Was her life a lie…or a strange dream?

As I read, I couldn’t help thinking of movies I’ve seen in which the conclusion shows that the whole story has been a fabrication…or a Twilight Zone of some kind. So I felt stunned. And as if I, too, had been led into a kind of alternate reality, which I then had to interpret and sort through. Until the last sections, I was headed toward a 5 star rating…instead, 4 stars from me.


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

REVIEW: GROWING UP FISHER, BY JOELY FISHER

 

Actress, director, entertainer Joely Fisher invites readers backstage, into the intimate world of her career and family with this touching, down-to-earth memoir filled with incredible, candid stories about her life, her famous parents, and how the loss of her unlikely hero, sister Carrie Fisher, ignited the writer in her.

Growing up in an iconic Hollywood Dynasty, Joely Fisher knew a show business career was her destiny. The product of world-famous crooner Eddie Fisher and ’60s sex kitten Connie Stevens, she struggled with her own identity and place in the world on the way to a decades-long career as an acclaimed actress, singer, and director.

Now, Joely shares her unconventional coming of age and stories of the family members and co-stars dearest to her heart, while stripping bare her own misadventures. In Growing Up Fisher, she recalls the beautifully bizarre twist of fate by which she spent a good part of her childhood next door to Debbie Reynolds. She speaks frankly about the realities of Hollywood—the fame and fortune, the constant scrutiny. Throughout, she celebrates the anomaly of a two-decade marriage in the entertainment industry, and the joys and challenges of parenting five children, while dishing on what it takes to survive and thrive in the unrelenting glow of celebrity. She speaks frankly about how the loss of her sister Carrie Fisher became a source of artistic inspiration.

Fisher’s memoir, with never-before-seen photos, will break and warm your heart.

 

My Thoughts: As a fan of Connie Stevens from the 60s, before she married Eddie Fisher, I was also hooked on their beautiful little family. I enjoyed seeing their two daughters who were approximately the same ages as my first two sons. I followed stories of them over the years, but then lost track.

Next, Joely Fisher’s movies and TV appearances caught my eye, as I was also a fan of her older sister Carrie. It was fascinating to me how Debbie Reynolds and Connie Stevens lived next door to each other on the beach at one point, and co-parented their children at times. Like a big blended family, abandoned by the father. Later in her life, Joely reconnected with Eddie, but she was the one who made the first moves. In the end, they were closer than she had thought possible.

Sharing what Growing up Fisher was like, with Eddie gone and Connie as the perky matriarch, I settled in to enjoy the moments and the memories. The photos were great, and I enjoyed learning more about their primary home on Delfern Drive, in Holmby Hills; a home in which they lived…when they didn’t. As money got tight at times, they would lease the home out and live elsewhere, returning when finances were better. At one point, Connie leased the home to the production crew that filmed Carrie Fisher’s movie Postcards from the Edge, and I loved learning this fact that was previously unknown to me.

The story was told in a back and forth fashion, following along to topics like The Fishbowl; Oh My Papa; The Courtship of Eddie’s Daughter; The Apple Doesn’t Fall Apart Very Far from the Tree; Blind Trust; Home; and After Thoughts…to name a few. An enjoyable read: 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: SISTER OF MINE, BY LAURIE PETROU

 

Penny and Hattie, orphaned sisters in a small town, are best friends, bound together to the point of knots. But Penny, at the mercy of her brutal husband, is desperate for a fresh start. Willing to do anything for her older sister, Hattie agrees to help. A match is struck and a fire burns Penny’s marriage to the ground. With her husband gone, Penny is free, and the sisters, it seems, get away with murder. But freedom comes at a cost.

More than a year after the fire, a charming young man comes to town. Hattie and Penny quickly bring him into the fold and into their hearts but their love for him threatens the delicate balance. Soon long-held resentments, sibling rivalry, and debts unpaid boil over, and the bonds of sisterhood begin to snap. As one little lie grows into the next, the sisters’ secrets will unravel, eroding their lives until only a single, horrible truth remains: You owe me.

My Thoughts: Sisterhood bonds can be sweet and loving, but they can also be tight and destructive. Sister of Mine is a mix of all these ingredients, but with the passage of time, the tight and destructive bonds would be their undoing.

Orphaned and living in a small town, Penny and Hattie Grayson often feel the eyes of the judgers upon them. Sometimes the scrutiny makes Hattie, the younger sister, act out more. She loves the center of attention, and she also enjoys stirring up rivalry with her sister. Their mother nurtured that spark of competition between them, and remembering her reignites it.

What deep, dark secret strengthens the ties between the sisters, and not in a good way? As we immerse ourselves in their story, a slow burn brings the dark secret into the light, and it is only near the end of the book that we fully realize what had happened one dark and dangerous night.

Hattie moved in and out of the home over the years, and each time she left, Penny savored the freedom from her sister’s constant reminders and taunts. The legacy of their secret.

How does adding a man and a child into the mix up the ante for the two of them? Why do some of the more troubled townsfolk continually tug away at the past until everything comes tumbling down?

As I turned the pages of this dark and sinister tale that shined a light on a truly dysfunctional connection, I couldn’t stop reading. Parts of the story were repetitive, but in the end I awarded 4.5 stars.


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