REVIEW: FRAGMENTS OF THE LOST, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

 

Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?


My Thoughts: From the beginning of Fragments of the Lost, I was drawn in by Jessa’s task to search through and box up Caleb’s belongings…after his death. And at his mother’s request.

But his mother, Eve, was someone untrustworthy with her own agenda, in my opinion. And the little girl, Mia, Caleb’s half-sister, had been fed stories about Jessa by her mother, obviously. But why?

Caleb’s secrets and his mysterious “death” seemed to hide a whole other life that might have been waiting for him. A life lost to him because of the choices of others.

As Jessa discovered each item in his room, her thoughts carried her away to moments in their relationship, and she was caught up in nostalgia. But she also realized that pieces of Caleb’s life had been hidden from her. What will she do to find her answers? Will the mysterious room behind his closet offer up a path to discovery?

The book was slow for about 2/3 of the way through. As fascinating as it was to see what each “fragment” yielded, I wanted the story to move along, taking us to whatever denouement awaited us. And I hoped that Jessa would dismiss the creepy Eve and Mia who always seemed to appear just when Jessa was on the path to a new memory. What further secrets will Jessa find as she packs up boxes and dumps the trash? Will a recent find lead to more answers? Near the end, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together, and as they did, I very happily could not stop reading as the intensity and danger grew. Despite the uneven pacing, the story did satisfy me eventually, and I liked how everything was finally resolved. 4 stars.

***
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REVIEW: MORAL DEFENSE, BY MARCIA CLARK

 

For defense attorney Samantha Brinkman, it’s not about guilt or innocence—it’s about making sure her clients walk.

In the follow-up to bestselling Blood Defense, Samantha is hired as the legal advocate for Cassie Sonnenberg after a brutal stabbing left the teenager’s father and brother dead, and her mother barely clinging to life. It’s a tabloid-ready case that has the nation in an uproar—and Sam facing her biggest challenge yet. Why did Cassie survive? Is she hiding something?

As Sam digs in to find the answers, she’s surprised to find herself identifying with Cassie, becoming more and more personally entangled in the case. But when Sam finally discovers the reason for that kinship, she faces a choice she never imagined she’d have to make.

My Thoughts: In the first outing with Samantha Brinkman, Blood Defense, I was drawn in by this tough but vulnerable defense attorney, and in Moral Defense, I loved finding out more about her world. From the author’s descriptions, I could visualize everything about her current life, and her past had a way of poking into her world via a client with whom she identifies.

Sam’s father Dale Pearson made himself available to her in her cases as she struggles to deal with nefarious clients and a dirty cop. But would he continue to support her when he discovers some of her less than legitimate methods?

Cassie Sonnenberg was the kind of teenage girl that made me want to roll my eyes, but I could also feel empathy for her situation as more of her story came to light.

Will Sam find enough information to help her client? Will she gather enough evidence to win the case? Or will we all be blindsided when we finally see the truth?

Midway through the book, we think we know how it all plays out…but then we are thrown a curve with an unexpected character. When that twist turns everything in a completely different direction, we get to watch how Sam makes the system work for her. A 5 star read for me.***

REVIEW: YOUNG JANE YOUNG, BY GABRIELLE ZEVIN

 

Aviva Grossman, an ambitious congressional intern in Florida, makes the mistake of having an affair with her boss–and blogging about it. When the affair comes to light, the beloved congressman doesn’t take the fall. But Aviva does, and her life is over before it hardly begins: slut-shamed, she becomes a late-night talk show punch line, anathema to politics.

She sees no way out but to change her name and move to a remote town in Maine. This time, she tries to be smarter about her life and strives to raise her daughter, Ruby, to be strong and confident. But when, at the urging of others, Aviva decides to run for public office herself, that long-ago mistake trails her via the Internet and catches up–an inescapable scarlet A. In the digital age, the past is never, ever, truly past. And it’s only a matter of time until Ruby finds out who her mother was and is forced to reconcile that person with the one she knows.

My Thoughts: In the beginning of Young Jane Young, we are thrust into the perspective of Rachel Shapiro Grossman, an aging Miami woman recently divorced. When her daughter was younger, she had worried when she and the rest of the world accidentally discovered that she had been having an affair with the Congressman for whom she was an intern. And typically, the Congressman’s life went on. He was not ruined politically; his marriage survived; and Aviva had to come up with another way to move on.

Reinventing herself as Jane Young, she moves to a small town in Maine, where she has her baby girl Ruby. Now we see her new life and how she has found a way to start over.

When Ruby is thirteen, we learn more from her perspective about her quest for answers. Like who is her father? She is precocious and knows how to Google, so it doesn’t take her long to realize that her mother is Aviva Grossman, the infamous intern who slept with a Congressman.

What will Ruby do? How will she deal with what she has learned? Will her investigation cause her to arrive at some erroneous conclusions about her paternity?

In the subsequent chapters, we flash back to Aviva’s early years, which we see unfold from her perspective, and discover some of our own answers to those questions. A delightful read that reminded me of how women pay dearly for their poor choices…and how men seem to sail through theirs. But we also learn that sometimes brave young women can change the course of their lives by boldly reinventing themselves. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE ONE & ONLY, BY EMILY GIFFIN

 

Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.

My Thoughts: In the beginning of The One and Only, I had mixed feelings about the book. I am not a football addict, and I feared that the game, its players, and its fans would take over the story. But I started caring about Shea right away, and I found that I could relate to her feelings about her hometown and about family, even though my own experiences were quite different.

Watching how her unique friendship with Coach Clive Carr, her best friend’s father, started changing after his wife’s death caught me up in their story, and I couldn’t help rooting for them. I knew that they were about to encounter a lot of push back from people, especially Shea’s friend Lucy.

The slow build of passion between Coach and Shea allowed time for her to experience some other relationships that did not work out, and which increased the pull between them. When it looked like their love was doomed, I hoped for some kind of miracle. The quick turnaround at the end was a bit much, though, and left me feeling cheated out of more special moments. But overall, I had to keep turning the pages, wondering how the characters’ lives would come together. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THEN SHE WAS GONE, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Ten years after her teenage daughter disappears, a woman crosses paths with a charming single father whose young child feels eerily familiar, in this evocative, suspenseful drama from New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell—perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Liane Moriarty.

Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone.

Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?


My Thoughts: The characters, the story, and the mysterious circumstances of Then She Was Gone drew me in, taking me to places I could not have imagined.

After Laurel Mack meets a handsome stranger named Floyd Dunn, she is swept up into a feeling of belonging, a sense of family. But there is something so surreal about Floyd’s nine-year-old daughter Poppy. She cannot help but feel a special connection to her.

As Laurel quickly becomes enmeshed in his world and in his family, she begins to feel uneasy. Why did Floyd reel her in so quickly? What is going on in his mind? She senses something about the way Floyd behaves with Poppy, something that raises those red flags. Why did he always give in to her demands? Why does he treat her like an adult, allowing her control over many aspects of their lives?

In alternating narratives, we learn more about Poppy, and about her mother Noelle Donnelly, who had abandoned her when she was very young; through Ellie’s first person narrative, we realize what had happened to her. And finally, we learn the secrets Floyd is hiding. A book I couldn’t put down. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: KEEP HER SAFE, BY SOPHIE HANNAH

 

Pushed to the breaking point, Cara Burrows flees her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied — by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake at the front desk… but soon Cara realizes that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving natural life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust — everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

My Thoughts: The opening lines of Keep Her Safe reveal another narrator, someone who seems to be Melody Chapa…and then we are thrust into the perspective of Cara Burrows, a British woman who fled her home for some unknown reason, and who is looking forward to her time at the Swallowtail Resort and Spa in Arizona. The place is huge and guests push a white button to get a car to take them around. But on the first night, Cara is given a room number and a key and insists on walking to her destination.

What does she find on the third floor when she unlocks the door? Evidence of occupancy, and then the crying voice of a girl, followed by a man’s voice. The girl is upset over spilling something on her stuffed toy Poggy. Embarrassed and apologetic, Cara scurries from the room, and the management upgrades her to a casita with a private pool and wonderful amenities. She is also given an iPad to guide her through her days.

What is going on in this strange spa? The receptionist, a woman named Riyonna Briggs, is trying to calm down an elderly woman who insists she saw “Melody.” Later, that same staff member assures Cara that the woman always sees Melody, wherever she goes, and is confused.

As the pages turn, we watch Cara studying the guests and listening to a woman named Tarin Fry and her daughter Zellie, who annoy her, but also pique her curiosity. Soon she is reading a blog that Tarin mentioned, written by a woman named Bonnie…and learns about Melody’s case and how her parents are in prison for killing her. She also begins to connect the dots, and realizes that there was something odd about the man and girl in that first room.

Nothing is the way it seems, as we soon find out. Numerous oddities keep us wondering, even as we realize that danger lurks around every corner. How does Cara find herself right in the middle of what looks like a conspiracy, wondering if she will ever see her family again? Will she put together the clues and find her way home again? A captivating 5 star read with so many twists that I could not stop reading.***

REVIEW: SAY YOU’RE SORRY, BY MELINDA LEIGH

After the devastating loss of her husband in Iraq, Morgan Dane returns to Scarlet Falls, seeking the comfort of her hometown. Now, surrounded by family, she’s finally found peace and a promising career opportunity—until her babysitter is killed and her neighbor asks her to defend his son, Nick, who stands accused of the murder.

Tessa was the ultimate girl next door, and the community is outraged by her death. But Morgan has known Nick for years and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite the damning evidence stacked against him. She asks her friend Lance Kruger, an ex-cop turned private eye, for help. Taking on the town, the police, and a zealous DA, Morgan and Lance plunge into the investigation, determined to find the real killer. But as they uncover secrets that rock the community, they become targets for the madman hiding in plain sight.

My Thoughts: Morgan Dane is the kind of character that inspires me, with her love of home, family, and justice. Despite the fact that she comes from a family of cops and plans to work for the DA’s office, she makes a decision that many do not understand. She agrees to defend her neighbor, Nick, arrested for the murder of Tessa, with whom he had a close relationship…because there is just something about him that makes his guilt seem impossible.

Her friend and new partner in the investigation, Lance Kruger, is not as sure of Nick’s innocence, but he is determined to stand by Morgan.

Before she is barely off the ground in the investigation, Morgan is confronted by numerous characters who threaten and shadow her. These actions convince her even more that she is getting close to the truth. Who will she finally pinpoint as the alternate suspect, the true criminal? What happened the night of the party, and who else might have seen what happened? I had my suspicions about several, but in the end, I didn’t guess who the perpetrator was.

There was danger, intensity, and a sense of political conspiracies afoot, all of which made Say You’re Sorry a page turner for me. There was also a growing romantic connection between Morgan and Lance, which they tried to fight. I am eager to see what the two of them will do next, in Book Two. 5 stars.***

REVIEW: OPEN HOUSE, BY AMANDA PAYS & CORBIN BERNSEN

Transforming older homes into modern, functional, open spaces filled with natural light.

Author Amanda Pays and Corbin Bernsen share ideas for remodeling older homes to create modern, open floor plans while sharing lessons learned along the way. Topics include tricks of seeing through cluttered, dark rooms to imagine an open floor plan and space filled with light; how to manage a renovation budget (ideas on where to shop, items to splurge on, where to save); and designing homes for simple family living.

My Thoughts: I love interior design, and while I have no training in this area, I devour everything I can find with photos and ideas about changing up my space.

I used to watch HGTV religiously…and then I started buying every magazine I could find with photos that would give me ideas.

I first heard about this book, Open House, and its authors Amanda Pays and Corbin Bernsen, on the Hallmark show Home and Family. Of course I had to buy it.

I was especially drawn to their passion for renovation and recycling…and re-purposing items to make unique interiors.

The book is filled with text and photos, so a reader can learn a lot about how they accomplish what they did…or the reader can simply luxuriate in the gorgeous photos.

I have enjoyed Corbin Bernsen in several shows and movies, beginning with LA Law back in the day. I also look forward to his occasional appearance on The Young and the Restless, where his late mother, Jeanne Cooper, was an iconic member of the cast.

If you love design, or enjoy looking at lovely homes and interiors, this might just be the book for you. 5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE BLACKBIRD SEASON, BY KATE MORETTI

In a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.

Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alecia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alecia to wonder if her husband has a second life.

And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.

Nate’s coworker and sole supporter, Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, is determined to prove his innocence. She has Lucia’s class journal, and while some of the entries appear particularly damning to Nate’s case, others just don’t add up. Bridget knows the key to Nate’s exoneration and the truth of Lucia’s disappearance lie within the walls of the school and in the pages of that journal.

My Thoughts: The alternating perspectives of Nate, Alecia, Bridget, Lucia…and others reeled me into The Blackbird Season, a dark tale that probes beneath the surface of small town life in Pennsylvania.

Could the golden boy Nate have crossed some lines while dealing with his students? Could his desire to help them have drawn him into a dark place? And what is behind his almost obsessive need to be liked by everyone?

As a result, I found myself not really liking Nate, who always seemed defensive and did not prioritize his family at all. However, there was also the possibility that more was hidden beneath the surface, and that others bore a great deal of responsibility for what happened to Lucia.

Bridget, of course, was his biggest supporter and the friendship that Alecia had once felt for her began to fizzle. How could Bridget blindly believe Nate when the evidence suggested otherwise?

And what was Lucia’s game? She seemed broken and who wouldn’t empathize? But her seductive, weird behavior bugged me. I don’t automatically believe the stories teenage girls tell. But it was also possible that some of what she said was true, even if there were lies and manipulations involved.

What would happen before the truth finally came out? I couldn’t stop reading, waiting for it all to unravel so we could see and understand. 5 stars.


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

REVIEW: LIES SHE TOLD, BY CATE HOLAHAN

 

The truth can be darker than fiction.

Liza Cole, a once-successful novelist whose career has seen better days, has one month to write the thriller that could land her back on the bestseller list. Meanwhile, she’s struggling to start a family, but her husband is distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. As stresses weigh her down in her professional and personal lives, Liza escapes into writing the chilling exploits of her latest heroine, Beth.

Beth, a new mother, suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home caring for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, she aims to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the East River.

Then, the lines between Liza’s fiction and her reality eerily blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the East River, and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Before her deadline is up, Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her, including her own. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

My Thoughts: In alternating narratives, we enter the worlds of Liza and Beth, and, at first, it seems as though Liza is simply creating a romantic suspense novel, even though she readily admits that her fiction is often based on composites of people and events in her own life. She says “to be a writer is to be a life thief. Every day, I rob myself blind.”

Sometimes events in her fictionalized world definitely mimic her life. She is worried about her marriage and she is on fertility drugs that render her emotional. And sometimes she has memory issues. Could she be mixing up events? Does her real life look too much like the fictional one? Could she have done something dreadful, and then forgotten about it?

It doesn’t help that both Liza’s husband David and fictional Beth’s husband Jake are liars…and probably cheaters. Or is everything skewed by Liza’s version of the truth?

I couldn’t stop reading Lies She Told. I loved going back and forth between the worlds of Liza and Beth, and trying to decide the truth of what had actually happened. Did David kill Nick, or has Liza done it and forgotten? Have all the actions she has attributed to Beth been her own? Is she even writing a book? Then we discover a buried secret from Liza’s childhood, one that definitely changes everything we thought we knew. An unputdownable book that earned 5 stars.

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