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.




Bailey Weggins’ great new friend in college, Jillian Lowe, had everything going for her. Pretty, popular, and whip-smart, she lit up any room that she walked into. All of that dramatically changed during her sophomore year, when a neighbor became unhinged and murdered her family. Jillian immediately left school, and ever since, Bailey has felt guilty for not staying in closer contact and being a greater support to her friend.

Now, sixteen years later, Bailey is shocked to see Jillian at her book event, and even more stunned when her still-gorgeous friend approaches her with a case. The man accused of murdering her family is on the brink of being cleared of the crime through new DNA evidence. With the real killer walking free, Jillian is desperate for Bailey’s help to identify him and allow her the closure she yearns for.

As the two women return to Jillian’s childhood town to investigate, it doesn’t take long for their sleuthing to cause shock waves. Someone starts watching their every move. As they uncover deeply-guarded secrets, so shocking that they make Jillian rethink her entire relationship to her family, Bailey and Jillian find themselves in great peril. They must decide just how much they’re willing to risk to finally discover the truth about the Lowe family’s murder.

My Thoughts: Plunging into a Bailey Weggins mystery always keeps me rapidly turning pages. And in Even If It Kills Her, the story wrapped itself around me and kept holding on until the very end.

All the characters felt like real people, and as Bailey approached each one, I was alert and on guard, because who knew what secrets might provide the answers she needed.

Jillian stayed out of Bailey’s way, opening doors to the people from her past in the small town of Dory, Massachusetts…and for some reason, hung out mostly with old friends Mamie and Blake. At one point, Bailey began to sense something between Jillian and Blake that made her nervous. Was she flirting with him?

There were a lot of persons of interest for Bailey, like Bruce Korda, a former business partner to Mr. Lowe, with whom there had been tension near the end. Then there was Bruce’s stepson, Trevor, who had been fired just before the murders. Reported animosity between others in the town made for intense interactions and the building up of suspicion.

What had happened at the high school years before that might have led to the murder? Was there a big secret that could have been the tipping point? Finding the people with answers kept Bailey going, and in between there were conversations by phone with her boyfriend Beau Regan, who disapproved of her pursuit of a murderer.

At each turn, I thought I had it figured out, and as the danger increased, I waited for the final piece of the puzzle…and then I was stunned to discover the identity of the perpetrator. I hadn’t seen that coming…except when looking back, I realized that it all made sense. 5 stars.




As addictive, cinematic, and binge-worthy a narrative as The Wire and The Killing, Two Girls Down introduces Louisa Luna as a thriller writer of immense talent and verve.

When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls.

Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing Oxycontin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads, and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.


My Thoughts: Alice Vega is an interesting character: tough, vulnerable, damaged, and with a great track record for finding missing people. Two Girls Down first shows her in her home in Central California as she goes through her yoga routine. We follow her thoughts as she connects with someone who wants to hire her to find two missing girls in the Pennsylvania small town of Denville.

Jamie Brandt knows she is not the best mother. She is impatient and feels burdened by the task of rearing her two girls, Kylie, 10, and Bailey, 8. But she is devastated by the loss of them, and we watch her go through the emotional wringer over the days that follow.

Once Vega arrives and connects with the police, she realizes she must find another way, since they are “locking her out,” claiming they don’t work with civilians. She finds a PI named Max Caplan, a former cop, and the two of them take on the task together.

Alternating narratives take us along for the ride as they find potential suspects, people who might have connected with the girls. They watch videos of the scene where they disappeared; they talk to witnesses; and connect the dots. Eventually the police and FBI let them in, and the collaboration is often frustrating, but productive.

Their search takes them to the ramshackle homes of druggies and dealers…and then, finally, to some wealthy habitats where the darkest secrets hide. What will they discover? Who is behind the elaborate taking of the two young girls, and how do their kidnappings connect to others in the state? An engaging story that was sometimes confusing to follow, this one earned 4 stars.***



Mary DiNunzio wants to represent her old friend Simon Pensiera, a sales rep who was wrongly fired by his company, but her partner Bennie Rosato represents the parent company. When she confronts Mary, explaining this is a conflict of interest, an epic battle of wills and legal strategy between the two ensues—ripping the law firm apart, forcing everyone to take sides and turning friend against friend.


My Thoughts: From the very first page of Exposed, I was drawn into Mary’s big South Philly family, as she met with several of them to talk about Simon, another friend from the neighborhood. His case ignites Mary’s passion and she is all in, fighting not only for their friend, but for family and neighborhood.

As Mary gets prepared to take over Simon’s case, her partner Bennie argues with her about the potential conflict of interest. Both Mary and their associate Judy show aspects of the rules that suggest they are not in conflict.

But before anything can be settled, several things happen to make it all seemingly moot, and suddenly both Mary and Bennie are in danger.

Who has taken steps to frame Simon for a crime? What will bring the partners together again in a fight for their case, their friendship, and their lives?

I enjoyed the story, the characters, and the alternating narrative of Mary and Bennie. As different as the two are, they definitely complement each other…and their fight could prove the strength of their bond. 5 stars.




Kerra Bailey is a TV journalist hot on the trail of a story guaranteed to skyrocket her career to new heights. Twenty-five years ago, Major Franklin Trapper became a national icon when he was photographed leading a handful of survivors to safety after the bombing of a Dallas hotel. For years, he gave frequent speeches and interviews but then suddenly dropped out of the public eye, shunning all media. Now Kerra is willing to use any means necessary to get an exclusive with the Major–even if she has to secure an introduction from his estranged son, former ATF agent John Trapper.

Still seething over his break with both the ATF and his father, Trapper wants no association with the bombing or the Major. Yet Kerra’s hints that there’s more to the story rouse Trapper’s interest despite himself. And when the interview goes catastrophically awry–with unknown assailants targeting not only the Major, but also Kerra–Trapper realizes he needs her under wraps if he’s going to track down the gunmen . . . and finally discover who was responsible for the Dallas bombing.


My Thoughts: From the very beginning of Seeing Red, I was drawn into this layered tale full of numerous red herrings and good guys turning out to be bad guys, with many secrets only revealed at the very end.

Just when I thought I had all the bad guys figured out, another good guy would bite the dust. I must say that I was pleased with some of the so-called good guys turning bad, as smug people always annoy me.

Throughout, I loved how Trapper and Kerra worked together to find the answers, and the growing connection between them made what could have been a very grim tale lighter and more fun.

In some ways, my head was spinning because of all the dark connections, but in the end, I was smiling. My eyes were also blurring as I had to keep reading until the final denouement. 4.5 stars.




Paul Strom has the perfect life: a glittering career as an advertising executive, a beautiful wife, two healthy boys and a big house in a wealthy suburb. And he’s the perfect husband: breadwinner, protector, provider. That’s why he’s planned a romantic weekend for his wife, Mia, at their lake house, just the two of them. And he’s promised today will be the best day ever.

But as Paul and Mia drive out of the city and toward the countryside, a spike of tension begins to wedge itself between them and doubts start to arise. How much do they trust each other? And how perfect is their marriage, or any marriage, really?

My Thoughts: Our first person narrator throughout Best Day Ever is Paul Strom, husband, father, and a man intent on controlling everything about the day…and their lives.

In the beginning, his narrative seemed almost sweet, like someone wanting to have that perfect getaway. But the more we followed his monologue, the darker things seemed. It didn’t take long for me to feel the angst of a day and a life that would surely unravel.

As Mia reacts, and then as Paul reads her reactions, the intensity increases. Soon I am beginning to feel the fear and suspense of someone watching lives crash and burn.

The neighbor Buck adds to the intensity, as he shows up constantly, interrupting the two of them, but soon it begins to feel pre-planned. What is going on, and what will happen next?

A story of power and control, and breaking free of that control and regaining one’s power, kept me turning pages in this brilliant study of dysfunctional family dynamics. 5 stars.




Patricia Bosworth has gone beyond the image of an American superwoman to reveal a Jane Fonda more powerful and vulnerable than ever expected. Fonda emerged from a heartbreaking Hollywood family drama to become a ’60s onscreen ingénue and then an Oscar-winning actress. At the top of her game she risked all, rising up against the Vietnam War and shocking the world with a trip to Hanoi. While becoming one of Hollywood’s most committed feminists, she financed her husband Tom Hayden’s political career in the ’80s with exercise videos that began a fitness craze and brought in millions of dollars. Just as interesting is Fonda’s next turn, as a Stepford Wife of the Gulfstream set, marrying Ted Turner and seemingly walking away from her ideals and her career. Fonda’s multilevel story is a blend of the deep insecurity, magnetism, bravery, and determination that has fueled her inspiring and occasionally infuriating public life.

My Thoughts: In many ways, I have followed the numerous incarnations of Jane that have been described in Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman. Her early childhood experiences, including the tragedy of her mother’s suicide when she was twelve, and also highlighting her quest for her father’s love and approval, could describe many children growing up in a world with celebrity parents. The vulnerability, accompanied by constant attention, could come to chip away at the self-confidence of anyone. The early chapters in this book were the least fascinating to me, but I did enjoy learning more about her childhood.

My interest grew as I learned more about how Jane’s early years as an actress helped her develop greater self-confidence, but which did not completely satisfy her need for love and approval.

The incarnation that captured my interest the most was how she turned to political activism as a way of coming into her own, and also became a way of expressing her unique and independent perspective. But despite those who found her articulate and knowledgeable, there were also those who focused on the media’s hatred of her visit to Hanoi during the war. The label of Hanoi Jane would follow her and threaten her for years.

Then in still another incarnation, her turn at developing her own business through the work-out tapes and the resulting empire would be followed by still another life as a tycoon’s wife.

Unexpected shifts over the years would reveal how much of Jane’s life could almost certainly be seen as a series of changes and reinvention. Fascinating and revelatory. I enjoyed this book and have awarded it 4.5 stars.




It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone’s lips these days is “flickers”—the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you’ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have earned her the title “America’s Sweetheart.” The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.

But their ambitions are challenged by both the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender—and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world’s highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.


My Thoughts: In the beginning of The Girls in the Picture, we meet Frances Marion. It is 1969, and she is reflecting on the past. She is about to visit Mary Pickford again after an estrangement of many years. I liked starting at “the end,” and then I wanted to know more about the journey.

What a journey it is! Mary is already acting when she and Frances meet, and as their bond grows, Mary pulls her in by persuading her to write scenarios for her, as she admires her writing style. Their team work begins in the era of silent movies. Slowly they become a brilliant duo, and almost from the beginning, they enjoy personal time together, too.

But the men in the industry and in their lives slowly pull them apart, and when “talkies” come along, everything changes for Mary. She doesn’t quite know how to flow with the new style, and other issues are interfering in her ability to act, too.

The journey plodded for me…and then, suddenly, as we come to the end, the intensity builds and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. I would have loved the book more if the middle hadn’t sagged for me. However, I did like learning more about the Old Hollywood era, and the author’s writing style kept me engaged. 4 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley



At Windemere School for Girls, one of America’s elite private schools, Dr. Gregory Copeland is the beloved chair of the English Department. A married father with a penchant for romantic poetry—and impressionable teenage girls—he operates in plain sight for years, until one of his former students goes public with allegations of inappropriate conduct. With the help of an investigative journalist, and two additional Windemere alumnae who had relationships with Copeland as students, the unlikely quartet unites to take him down.

Set in modern-day Los Angeles, These Violent Delights is a literary exploration of the unyielding pressures and vulnerabilities that so many women and girls experience, and analyzes the ways in which our institutions and families fail to protect or defend us. A suspenseful and nuanced story told from multiple points of view, the novel examines themes of sexuality, trauma, revenge, and the American myth of liberty and justice for all.

My Thoughts: Journalist Jane March is planning a new story when her intern, Caryn Rodgers, approaches her with a very secretive assignment. She has written an essay detailing events in a private girls’ school years before, and has included supporting e-mails from the perpetrator.

Once they have cleared the way with their legal team, and verified the facts, they decide to publish the essay in the Sunday paper. What Jane and some of the other women notice immediately is how quickly the male staff want to discredit the events…wondering why the young girl (fifteen at the time) hadn’t gone to the police. These reactions pave the way for what they will face down the road.

Publication leads to more girls coming forward, though, and while this sounds like a good thing, it also leads to more pain for the victims. They are supported by some, but vilified by others. The long road ahead will be even more brutal for Sasha, one of the girls, whose own personal background had been abusive. Her fragility led to stunning and painful events.

A story that could have been ripped right out of today’s headlines, These Violent Delights gripped me and kept me glued to the pages. The multiple narrators offered the opportunity to feel the experiences of the characters, which made for compelling reading. Recommended for those who enjoy books based on flawed individuals making bad choices, and the consequences that literally change their lives. 5 stars.




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.