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.***

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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.

REPRISING A REVIEW: MIDWIVES, BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN

In December 2012, I read my first book by Bohjalian…and have gone on to find several more favorites from him.

Here is my review from back then:

It was an icy winter night in an isolated house in rural Vermont, in March 1981. An experienced midwife named Sibyl Danforth took desperate measures to save a baby’s life. She performed a C-section on a mother she believed had died of a stroke. But what if she was wrong? What if she’d accidentally killed her instead?

Told in the voice of Sibyl’s teenage daughter Connie, as well as from the midwife’s personal notes, we gradually come to know the events that transpired both during the event and afterwards. An inexperienced assistant, the clouded emotions of others, and the outrage of the medical community all converge to bring the case to a courtroom.

Even as the events afterwards unfolded, and as the past slipped seamlessly into the present, the reader is left frantically turning pages, uncertain as to what the outcome will actually be.

Will the efforts of a brilliant defense attorney and expert witnesses for the defense combat the aggressive, almost cruel methods of the state’s attorney? Will the jurors be able to sort out the facts from the conjecture offered by some of the witnesses? And what will happen to Connie Danforth’s life if her mother is convicted? And what chance of acquittal could there be, since Connie has kept a secret that could sway events and change everything?

Midwives is more than a case about medical malpractice or involuntary manslaughter. It’s also about tradition vs. alternative methods. It is about how hostility within the medical community can affect the lives of many. How perceptions often alter reality.

This is my first novel by this author, but I was thoroughly engaged throughout and will be reading more of his work. Five stars.

***

REVIEW: HOME, BY HARLAN COBEN

A decade ago, kidnappers grabbed two boys from wealthy families and demanded ransom, then went silent. No trace of the boys ever surfaced. For ten years their families have been left with nothing but painful memories and a quiet desperation for the day that has finally, miraculously arrived: Myron Bolitar and his friend Win believe they have located one of the boys, now a teenager. Where has he been for ten years, and what does he know about the day, more than half a life ago, when he was taken? And most critically: What can he tell Myron and Win about the fate of his missing friend? Drawing on his singular talent, Harlan Coben delivers an explosive and deeply moving thriller about friendship, family, and the meaning of home.

My Thoughts: From the first page, Home captures the reader. Win is in London and, following up on an anonymous e-mail, stumbles upon a situation involving a teenage boy who may be Patrick Moore. In his inimitable fashion, he attacks the men with the boy, but then the boy disappears. He calls upon Myron’s help back in the states, who quickly joins him.

How the two men finally catch up with the boy again and “rescue” him kept me enthralled, even though I don’t usually enjoy the antics of guys wanting to show their machismo.

For the rest of the story, we alternate between Win and Myron’s narratives, and we are back and forth between Europe and the states. There are meetings with the parents, whose behavior seems strange in light of recent developments. Why are Patrick’s parents so determined to keep him away from everyone? Why haven’t they done a DNA test? How does Patrick seem to be so up-to-date with contemporary life? Where is Rhys?

Finding the answers kept me turning pages, as even when parts of the story were less interesting to me, I did want to know what had happened, and whether or not Patrick was really the boy who had been kidnapped. By the end, the twists and turns that brought us to resolution reminded me of what Myron and Win always said: Sometimes you have to start at the beginning to figure out the truth. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HERE & GONE, BY HAYLEN BECK

 

It begins with a woman fleeing through Arizona with her kids in tow, trying to escape an abusive marriage. When she’s pulled over by an unsettling local sheriff, things soon go awry and she is taken into custody. Only when she gets to the station, her kids are gone. And then the cops start saying they never saw any kids with her, that if they’re gone than she must have done something with them…

Meanwhile, halfway across the country a man hears the frenzied news reports about the missing kids, which are eerily similar to events in his own past. As the clock ticks down on the search for the lost children, he too is drawn into the desperate fight for their return.

My Thoughts: Audra Kinney is almost at her California destination when she is pulled over. The sheriff of the nearby small town states that her car is overloaded, and that he must lighten it. He opens the trunk and finds some marijuana…which stuns her, as she knows it is not hers. She is arrested anyway. Her children are taken from the scene by an assistant to the sheriff.

Hours later, she realizes that they have been stolen, as the sheriff and his assistant are denying that there were any children with her.

Will anyone listen to her protests? Is there anyone at all who believes a word out of her mouth? Her ex-husband has done a good job of painting her as a drug addict/alcoholic with mental health issues. How can she defend herself against the wealthy ex and his mother?

The intensity of Here and Gone kept me captivated as I watched Audra’s efforts to find a compassionate person amongst those in charge. The FBI agent seems the most likely to help her, but she, too, might be persuaded by those who are lying.

Help comes from an unlikely source, but even as I felt the dawning of hope, I couldn’t stop worrying about them all until the final pages. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, BY CHRIS BOHJALIAN

 

Emily Shepard is on the run; the nuclear plant where her father worked has suffered a cataclysmic meltdown, and all fingers point to him. Now, orphaned, homeless, and certain that she’s a pariah, Emily’s taken to hiding out on the frigid streets of Burlington, Vermont, creating a new identity inspired by her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson.

Then she meets Cameron. Nine years old and with a string of foster families behind him, he sparks something in Emily, and she protects him with a fierceness she didn’t know she possessed. But when an emergency threatens the fledgling home she’s created, Emily realizes that she can’t hide forever.

My Thoughts: Emily’s first person narrative takes the reader back and forth in time, revealing bits of her life before the meltdown, and then shows us what life in shelters and on the street looked like.

At times she was part of a posse, while at other periods of her time on the streets, she struggled to stay out of sight. She learned right away not to use her real identity, as the news commentators had made the name “Shepard” something to vilify.

I liked how Emily shared her experiences and was open about her flaws and bad choices. She revealed a nurturing side when she took 9-year-old Cameron under her wing. But then, the habit of hiding, along with the fear of being caught, led to a disastrous error in judgment that put Cameron at risk.

Because of the non-linear storytelling, I was never quite sure where we were headed, but I was always interested and engaged.

By the end of Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, I could look back on what had happened in the nine months after the meltdown, and then look ahead at what would eventually come to pass for Emily; by then, I was close to tears at times, and I was definitely invested in what would happen to her. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE BOOKSHOP ON THE CORNER, BY JENNY COLGAN

 

Nina is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.  

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile — a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling. 

From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

My Thoughts: When a librarian who loves books is without a library in which to utilize her talents, what can she possibly do?

In coming up with an idea to buy an old van and stash it full of beloved books, a way to surround herself with what she loved most, Nina thought she had the perfect solution.

But obstacles presented themselves over and over, like not being able to get a license to park the van in Birmingham. But since she had bought the van in Scotland, and after researching the rules there, she decided to set up shop, moving from market to market in the surrounding area.

I liked how Nina was determined to make her little bookshop a success, and finding a cottage to rent from the seemingly cross farmer made her daily life a joy for her. But there were also interesting people, some nosy, who soon became friends. Befriending the young teenager Ainslee and her brother Ben helped Nina realize that reaching out to help those in need would make her feel a part of the community.

The train engineer whose path crossed with hers was a distraction, and in the end, she realized that finding a special connection closer to home would be the answer for her. A surprising turn toward her romantic dreams.

The Bookshop on the Corner was a story about bookish love, romantic dreams, and making your own way in a new community. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: MRS. FLETCHER, BY TOM PERROTTA

 

Eve Fletcher is trying to figure out what comes next. A forty-six-year-old divorcee whose beloved only child has just left for college, Eve is struggling to adjust to her empty nest when one night her phone lights up with a text message. Sent from an anonymous number, the mysterious sender tells Eve, “U R my MILF!” Over the months that follow, that message comes to obsess Eve. While leading her all-too-placid life—serving as Executive Director of the local senior center by day and taking a community college course on Gender and Society at night—Eve can’t curtail her own interest in a porn website called MILFateria.com, which features the erotic exploits of ordinary, middle-aged women like herself. Before long, Eve’s online fixations begin to spill over into real life, revealing new romantic possibilities that threaten to upend her quiet suburban existence.

Meanwhile, miles away at the state college, Eve’s son Brendan—a jock and aspiring frat boy—discovers that his new campus isn’t nearly as welcoming to his hard-partying lifestyle as he had imagined. Only a few weeks into his freshman year, Brendan is floundering in a college environment that challenges his white-dude privilege and shames him for his outmoded, chauvinistic ideas of sex. As the New England autumn turns cold, both mother and son find themselves enmeshed in morally fraught situations that come to a head on one fateful November night.

My Thoughts: Mrs. Fletcher is a story that delves into the lives of ordinary people, situations that could happen to anyone, and I love how the author often takes us to places that we don’t expect to go.

At first I wasn’t that interested in what was happening to Brendan, the college son, who was kind of a jerk, IMO. But then I started to see his perspective, probably because he was the only first person narrator throughout the novel. Could some of his actions stem from inexperience? Was he really as crude as he seemed, or had he simply had poor role models?

Then there was Eve, the attractive mother who was still struggling after her divorce, and now had an empty nest to ponder. As she starts spreading her wings, finding new people and situations to explore, I just knew that where she was going might end up being regrettable. Could her new addiction to porn lead her down questionable pathways? I also enjoyed how a middle-aged woman like Eve was navigating dating life for the first time after her divorce via social networking.

Supporting characters like Margo, the transgender professor; Amanda, the young woman who worked for Eve at the Senior Center; and Julian Spitzer, the young guy who had been bullied by Brendan in high school…all kept my interest as I followed along with their adventures and how their lives connected with Eve. A 5 star read.***An e-ARC came to me from the publisher via NetGalley.