REVIEW: TANGERINE, BY CHRISTINE MANGAN

 

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country. 

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

My Thoughts: Set in mid-century Morocco, Tangerine reveals the push and pull between Alice Shipley and Lucy Mason, college friends who parted after a tragic event. Told in their alternating voices, we see the uncertainty between them.

Alice has moved to Tangiers with her husband, John McAllister, hoping to start over. Sadly, however, the marriage is disappointing in many ways. She and John seem to have very different thoughts and feelings about their new surroundings, and they are a bit off-balance, too, because of how they are depending quite a bit on Alice’s trust fund. Perhaps because of the power struggle, John often tries to push Alice out of her comfort zone, encouraging her to be more sociable, but he comes across as a bully.

When Lucy Mason arrives unexpectedly, everything changes between the three of them. Alice hasn’t moved past what happened in Bennington, when they were in their senior year of college. Nothing about those events was ever satisfactorily explained…but Alice has always felt uneasy. She pushes the feelings down, however, and tries to be a good hostess.

What will trigger long-hidden memories and feelings and change the direction between them? What will Lucy do when pushed up against the wall? Will Alice find the courage to do what she needs to do? Or will Lucy manage to out-maneuver her when she senses her own wishes might not be realized?

An intense and twisted tale of obsession that brings the worst kind of betrayal, ending with mistaken identities and lost dreams. There is no happy ending here, and the book kept its grip on me throughout, but I kept hoping for something to change, for someone to finally find a good resolution. In the end, I sighed with relief that I no longer had to guess what might happen. But I definitely wanted a different outcome. 3.5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: MY GIRLS, BY TODD FISHER

 

A revelatory and touching tribute to the lives of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds written by the person who knew them best, Todd Fisher’s poignant memoir is filled with moving stories of growing up among Hollywood royalty and illustrated with never-before-seen photos and memorabilia.

In December 2016, the world was shaken by the sudden deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother Debbie Reynolds, two unspeakable losses that occurred in less than twenty-four hours. The stunned public turned for solace to Debbie’s only remaining child, Todd Fisher, who somehow retained his grace and composure under the glare of the media spotlight as he struggled with his own overwhelming grief.

The son of “America’s Sweethearts” Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, Todd grew up amid the glamorous wealth and pretense of Hollywood. Thanks to his funny, loving, no-nonsense mother, Todd remained down to earth, his own man, but always close to his cherished mom, and to his sister through her meteoric rise to stardom and her struggle with demons that never diminished her humor, talent, or spirit.

Now, Todd shares his heart and his memories of Debbie and Carrie with deeply personal stories from his earliest years to those last unfathomable days. His book, part memoir, part homage, celebrates their legacies through a more intimate, poignant, and often hilarious portrait of these two remarkable women than has ever been revealed before.

With thirty-two pages of never-before-seen photos and memorabilia from his family’s private archives, Todd’s book is a love letter to a sister and a mother, and a gift to countless fans who are mourning the deaths of these two unforgettable stars.

My Thoughts: As a big fan of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and their books and movies, I was eager to read My Girls…and enjoy the numerous photos, many never seen before.

I enjoyed Todd Fisher’s narrative voice, which should not have been surprising, given his family origins. He very creatively added to the stories I have already heard with some of his own…and anecdotally shared more of Carrie’s and Debbie’s, fresh with his perspective.

My plan was to pick up the book, read a few chapters and look at the photos…and then set it aside for another time. Instead I was glued to the pages all day, ignoring the thriller I had started earlier.

I liked that Todd and his “girls” had a great philosophy they had gleaned from Debbie’s parents: “There is no such word as can’t.” Refusing to give up came to be their strength, as there were so many obstacles to overcome along the way, from Debbie’s efforts to overcome financial difficulties caused by her second and third husbands, and Carrie’s constant battles against addiction and the effects of her bipolar disorder. Each of them was there for the others, making the battles winnable. A loving tribute that spotlights a Hollywood family, warts and all, this story earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SURPRISE ME, BY SOPHIE KINSELLA

 

After ten years together, Sylvie and Dan have a comfortable home, fulfilling jobs, and beautiful twin girls, and they communicate so seamlessly they finish each other’s sentences. They have a happy marriage and believe they know everything there is to know about each other. Until it’s casually mentioned to them that they could be together for another sixty-eight years . . . and panic sets in.

They decide to bring surprises into their marriage to keep it fresh and fun. But in their pursuit of Project Surprise Me—from unexpected gifts to restaurant dates to sexy photo shoots—mishaps arise, with disastrous and comical results. Gradually, surprises turn to shocking truths. And when a scandal from the past is uncovered, they begin to wonder if they ever really knew each other at all.

 

My Thoughts: Sylvie’s first person voice carries us along somewhat blithely in the opening chapters of Surprise Me, and I loved her quirky take on life and marriage. And then as unexpected and unpleasant events began to turn their marriage into something dark and secretive, I felt empathy for Sylvie’s distress.

But just when we think we have figured everything out, and when we have decided that their marriage is about to unravel, Sylvie takes proactive steps to learn the unexpected truth that Dan has been hiding. Sylvie’s life in the bubble created by her parents, with Dan’s assistance, has suddenly burst.

As the truth unfolds, will the two of them discover surprisingly inspirational things about one another? I enjoyed the characters, their views of life and relationships, and their realistic dialogue…and couldn’t wait to find out what ultimately happens to them all. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: MANHATTAN BEACH, BY JENNIFER EGAN

 

Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

‎Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Naval Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that once belonged to men, now soldiers abroad. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. One evening at a nightclub, she meets Dexter Styles again, and begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have vanished.

 

My Thoughts: Our multiple narrators take us back and forth in time, centering on the 1930s and 40s.

Anna Kerrigan was twelve years old when we first meet her, but then time moved ahead and we see her after the loss of her father to mysterious circumstances…and how she meets up once again with Dexter Styles, who is a vivid memory of a time on the beach with her father.

The war years reveal the ways in which women were dismissed, and how hard Anna had to fight to get some of the things she wanted. Anna was a strong character struggling against the norms of the times, and experiencing pushback from the men around her.

The disabilities of Anna’s sister Lydia informed her life in the early years, and the moments would leave their mark of pain and loss.

What would ultimately fill in the gaps in Anna’s life? How would she make some crucial discoveries as she tries to create her niche in the world?

Manhattan Beach had some promising moments, but just when I would start to connect with a character, we would switch to another one…and stay away for a while. Back again, picking up with the previous characters, it took more time to fall into that character’s perspective. The book was too long and too erratic for me. I was disappointed, and kept trying to love the book…without success. Beautiful writing, with some interesting characters. 3.5 stars for me.

***

BOOK REVIEW: I AM I AM I AM, BY MAGGIE O’FARRELL

 

I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O’Farrell’s astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter–for whom this book was written–from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life’s myriad dangers.

Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O’Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.

My Thoughts: From a brilliant writer comes this beautiful memoir that kept me turning pages and astonished at everything coming forth. I Am I Am I Am reads like fiction, as surely these life moments could not possibly be real.

The author’s own near misses with death are revealed in an anecdotal style, going back and forth in time in a non-linear fashion, and each sequence of events reveals the intensity of those moments in an unforgettable narrative.

From grave illnesses to dreadful accidents, from challenges in her pregnancies to the horrific life-threatening condition of one of her daughters, we are astounded by the overwhelming odds she has faced. But instead of a “poor me” reaction, she gives us her gratitude and the overwhelming fortune she has had to still be alive, and for her daughter to have come through these experiences, also a survivor.

A memorable story that reminds us of all of life’s blessings, even in the face of adversities. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE HIGH TIDE CLUB, BY MARY KAY ANDREWS

 

When ninety-nine-year-old heiress Josephine Bettendorf Warrick summons Brooke Trappnell to Talisa Island, her 20,000 acre remote barrier island home, Brooke is puzzled. Everybody in the South has heard about the eccentric millionaire mistress of Talisa, but Brooke has never met her. Josephine’s cryptic note says she wants to discuss an important legal matter with Brooke, who is an attorney, but Brooke knows that Mrs. Warrick has long been a client of a prestigious Atlanta law firm.

Over a few meetings, the ailing Josephine spins a tale of old friendships, secrets, betrayal and a long-unsolved murder. She tells Brooke she is hiring her for two reasons: to protect her island and legacy from those who would despoil her land, and secondly, to help her make amends with the heirs of the long dead women who were her closest friends, the girls of The High Tide Club—so named because of their youthful skinny dipping escapades—Millie, Ruth and Varina. When Josephine dies with her secrets intact, Brooke is charged with contacting Josephine’s friends’ descendants and bringing them together on Talisa for a reunion of women who’ve actually never met.

My Thoughts: The High Tide Club is a book about friendships, secrets, and the things that happen to tear friends apart.

Brooke, a young lawyer who left a practice in Savannah to set up her own office in St. Ann’s, is struggling to raise her three-year-old son; she has secrets of her own, and keeps them close. When she gets the call from Josephine, she is reluctant to get involved. Especially when she realizes that one of Josephine’s old friends was her own grandmother.

The story goes back and forth in time, with narrators in the 1940s and in the present. Just when Josephine finally has some of the descendants of her old friends around her, telling her story, she dies unexpectedly. Although at ninety-nine, with a terminal illness, it could have happened at any time.

Because of her ill health and age, Josephine’s story unfolded very slowly, in bits and pieces, which frustrated the listeners. If only she had held on one more day!

How did the skinny dipping and occasional pranks change into big secrets and mysteries? What really happened back then? With Josephine gone, how would the rest of the story unfold? How does the discovery of old letters add to the mystery?

I enjoyed the characters and with each turn of a page, I was eager to find out what really happened. So many unexpected twists came at them, and none of the descendants could have seen any of them coming. 4.5 stars.


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

REVIEW: TRUE STORIES FROM AN UNRELIABLE EYEWITNESS, BY CHRISTINE LAHTI

 

A fiercely intelligent, hilarious, and deeply feminist collection of interrelated personal stories from Academy, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award–winning actress and director Christine Lahti.

For decades, actress and director Christine Lahti has captivated the hearts and minds of her audience through iconic roles in Chicago Hope, Running on Empty, Housekeeping, And Justice for All, Swing Shift, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, God of Carnage, and The Blacklist. Now, in True Stories from an Unreliable Eyewitness, this acclaimed performer channels her creativity inward to share her own story for the first time on the page.

In this poignant essay collection, Lahti focuses on three major periods of her life: her child-hood, her early journey as an actress and activist, and the realities of her life as a middle-aged woman in Hollywood today. Lahti’s comical and self-deprecating voice shines through in stories such as “Kidnapped” and “Shit Happens,” and she takes a boldly honest look at the painful fissures in her family in pieces such as “Mama Mia” and “Running on Empty.” Taken together, the collection illuminates watershed moments in Lahti’s life, revealing her struggle to maintain integrity, fight her need for perfection, and remain true to her feminist inclinations.

My Thoughts: As a fan of the actress, I’ve enjoyed her humor and her down-to-earth and realistic portrayals of characters I’ve been able to relate to.

In True Stories From an Unreliable Eyewitness, Lahti described how memory is subjective, and that events are sifted through our personal filters. Individual family members would thus have very different memories of events they shared. I had seen this occur in my own family, with siblings experiencing quite different versions of events.

As she talks about growing up in Michigan in the 1950s, I felt a kinship with that picture perfect upbringing that could hide a multitude of frustrations, anxieties, and the quest for perfection.

Topics ranged from the counter-culture to aging, and in each stage of her life, she described her struggles to achieve her goals. In all parts of her journey, she has tried to find her authentic self, and fight against the demands of the male directors who expected sexual favors from female performers, and how sometimes she had to turn down roles that would erode her self-respect.

Back and forth in time, the author takes us along on her journey, sharing heart-felt moments and traumatic family episodes that could destroy someone without her strength and determination.

An engaging book that kept me interested throughout, I am awarding 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE DARKNESS GATHERS, BY LISA UNGER

 

Fresh from a tour promoting her last case, reclusive true crime writer Lydia Strong receives an anonymous cry for help, begging her to find and protect Tatiana Quinn, “and all the other girls in need of rescue.” Maybe the plea strikes close to her heart; maybe her investigator’s intuition starts buzzing. She takes it on.

But this simple case of a missing teenager soon becomes much more. Someone wants Lydia to drop the case, someone powerful, someone anxious enough to engineer the reappearance of one of Lydia’s first–and most dangerous–adversaries. Now, in addition to tracing the roots of Tatiana’s disappearance on a trail across the country and eventually overseas, Lydia must find the man who wants her dead, his unfinished business from years ago.

My Thoughts: A page turner with strong and intriguing characters, The Darkness Gathers brings the reader the same strength and ingenuity we find in the author’s later novels. As we trail Lydia Strong and her partner Jeffrey Mark in their quest to find a missing girl, we soon realize that so much more is at stake. Especially when so many agencies and individuals are trying to stop them, no matter what.

Following the money turns out to be their best way to uncover the truth and lead to the evil hidden in powerful organizations.

Will Lydia and Jeff find Tatiana? Who is behind her kidnapping? What evil lurks within her family?

Chasing down connections to the Albanian mob, sexual slavery, and snuff films keep their lives on a chaotic path, hurling toward danger in the darkness and the shadows.

As a final horror for the two of them, the release from prison of serial killer Jed McIntyre brings them to a terrifying conflict. This novel was a page turner that was intense and interesting, albeit with a few confusing elements. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE GOOD LIAR, BY CATHERINE MCKENZIE

 

When an explosion rips apart a Chicago building, the lives of three women are forever altered.
A year later, Cecily is in mourning. She was supposed to be in the building that day. Instead, she stood on the street and witnessed it going down, with her husband and best friend inside. Kate, now living thousands of miles away, fled the disaster and is hoping that her past won’t catch up with her. And Franny, a young woman in search of her birth mother, watched the horror unfold on the morning news, knowing that the woman she was so desperate to reconnect with was in the building.

Now, despite the marks left by the tragedy, they all seem safe. But as its anniversary dominates the media, the memories of that terrifying morning become dangerous triggers. All these women are guarding important secrets. Just how far will they go to keep them?

My Thoughts: A story told by multiple narrators, and with occasional flashbacks, The Good Liar gripped me and held on tight. Intensity grew even as more tidbits about the secrets in the lives of the women kept building.

Cecily seemed the one most “normal,” and then a photographer catches the look on her face right after the explosion and it soon circles the globe and makes her secrets even more hard to contain. The photographer, Teo Jackson, begins a documentary with Cecily as the “Poster Child,” and as he interviews her and others, what she is holding back niggles and turns her world more precarious. How can she continue while her own losses could be questioned? Why was she headed to that building on the fatal morning, and how did her lateness protect her?

A memorial a year later features those who died as well as those left behind. A compensation fund for the losses helps some, but also brings one woman out of hiding. What is the significance of the date of the event, soon labeled Triple Ten? Its occurrence on 10/10 at 10:00 a.m. has a secret meaning, but we won’t find out its significance until the end.

What is Kaitlyn hiding that kept her thousands of miles away…until she saw via the news what was happening with her family? What is going on with Franny that leads to Kaitlyn’s secret return, hoping to send Franny out of their orbit? What will she do to change everything?

I couldn’t stop turning the pages, twisting in the winds that symbolize Chicago…and breathless as more and more pieces were revealed. A stunning 5 star read for me.


***My eARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: MY ABSOLUTE DARLING, BY GABRIEL TALLENT

 

Turtle Alveston is a survivor. At fourteen, she roams the woods along the northern California coast. The creeks, tide pools, and rocky islands are her haunts and her hiding grounds, and she is known to wander for miles. But while her physical world is expansive, her personal one is small and treacherous: Turtle has grown up isolated since the death of her mother, in the thrall of her tortured and charismatic father, Martin. Her social existence is confined to the middle school (where she fends off the interest of anyone, student or teacher, who might penetrate her shell) and to her life with her father.

Then Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who tells jokes, lives in a big clean house, and looks at Turtle as if she is the sunrise. And for the first time, the larger world begins to come into focus: her life with Martin is neither safe nor sustainable. Motivated by her first experience with real friendship and a teenage crush, Turtle starts to imagine escape, using the very survival skills her father devoted himself to teaching her. What follows is a harrowing story of bravery and redemption. With Turtle’s escalating acts of physical and emotional courage, the reader watches, heart in throat, as this teenage girl struggles to become her own hero—and in the process, becomes ours as well.

My Thoughts: As I turned the pages of My Absolute Darling, I felt a sense of urgency, of hope for this young girl to escape a violent life. Nothing good could come of her life with the father who regularly abuses her and creates in her a perspective that shuns all that is good in the world.

How can she keep staying with him? Why does she not even try to escape when small connections with others show her an alternative to what she experiences with him?

Perhaps it is the years I spent saving children from abuse and neglect that kept me turning pages, longing to protect this girl.

But despite these concerns and the longing to see the character take another path, I found myself discouraged and frustrated. Parts of the story revealed the tedious details of living off the grid, and how Turtle continued to give in the demands of her father.

But then something happened that turned the tide, and Turtle suddenly and intensely fought for her life and the lives of others. Those pages saved the book for me, earning three stars; I could not give more due to the darkness of a book littered with violence and excessive verbal abuse. I had to keep reading, though, in order to see how it all ended.

***