REVIEW: AFTER THE END, BY CLARE MACKINTOSH

 

Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re best friends, lovers—unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors put the question of his survival into their hands. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son.

What if they could have both?

A gripping and propulsive exploration of love, marriage, parenthood, and the road not taken, After the End brings one unforgettable family from unimaginable loss to a surprising, satisfying, and redemptive ending and the life they are fated to find. With the emotional power of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, Mackintosh helps us to see that sometimes the end is just another beginning.

 

My Thoughts: After the End is an emotional story that spotlights a family in crisis. Alternating between the perspectives of Pip, Max, and even Leila, the doctor in the middle of it all, we follow the before and after moments of Dylan’s life.

We are thrust into a legal battle, a media circus, and an emotional tug of war that heightens the intensity of the crisis and the family pain.

I couldn’t stop reading the story of Pip, Max, and Dylan, although the leaps on the timeline were a little confusing. We went back and then forward so often that I felt a little lost…until I decided to just flow with the events and immerse myself in the moments.

As the story came to its conclusion, I did feel connected to the characters and will not forget them. 4.5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

Advertisements

REVIEW: THE GIRL HE USED TO KNOW, BY TRACEY GARVIS GRAVES

 

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people’s behavior confusing, she’d rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game—and his heart—to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She’s living the life she wanted as a librarian. He’s a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

My Thoughts: The Girl He Used to Know takes the reader back and forth in time, between 2001, when Annika and Jonathan serendipitously reconnected, to 1991 when they were in college.

Annika’s social anxiety and other issues seemed to trigger the protective, nurturing aspects in Jonathan. But were they destined to fail back then? Can they sort through the issues and do better this time?

As Annika and Jonathan alternately tell their story, we learn more about them and the events that separated them in the past. Moving forward, with the help of a therapist for Annika, we come to understand her struggles and how she has worked to overcome them, and how the two of them have grown and changed.

August 2001 was a significant time period for them to reconnect, as something traumatic loomed on the horizon for them that would require all of their strength to overcome. An emotional ending kept me turning pages as I could not help but root for the two of them. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NIGHT VISITORS, BY CAROL GOODMAN

 

ALICE gets off a bus in the middle of a snowstorm in Delphi, NY. She is fleeing an abusive relationship and desperate to protect…

OREN, ten years old, a major Star Wars fan and wise beyond his years. Though Alice is wary, Oren bonds nearly instantly with…

MATTIE, a social worker in her fifties who lives in an enormous run-down house in the middle of the woods. Mattie lives alone and is always available, and so she is the person the hotline always calls when they need a late-night pickup. And although according to protocol Mattie should take Alice and Oren to a local shelter, instead she brings them home for the night. She has plenty of room, she says. What she doesn’t say is that Oren reminds her of her little brother, who died thirty years ago at the age of ten.

But Mattie isn’t the only one withholding elements of the truth. Alice is keeping her own secrets. And as the snowstorm worsens around them, each woman’s past will prove itself unburied, stirring up threats both within and without.

My Thoughts: I was immediately swept up into the drama of The Night Visitors as Alice and Oren get off the bus and are pulled into the unknown life ahead of them. Fleeing abuse, but not sure who they can trust, Alice braces herself against the challenges ahead.

Alice and Mattie’s stories are told in alternating narratives, and we learn more about their lives and their experiences as their stories unfold.

I could relate to Mattie, having had a career in social work. Her own family life was full of secrets and dark judgments, so I could empathize with how she had struggled.

Alice’s secrets brought darkness into their new lives, and because she wasn’t sure if she could trust Mattie, she almost lost the opportunity to accept the good offered to her.

Mysteries seemed to lurk in the old Victorian house where Mattie offers refuge, and I liked the “ghostly elements” in the story. In the end, I was happy that many of the issues were resolved for the characters. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HER ONE MISTAKE, BY HEIDI PERKS

 

Charlotte was supposed to be looking after the children, and she swears she was. She only took her eyes off of them for one second. But when her three kids are all safe and sound at the school fair, and Alice, her best friend Harriet’s daughter, is nowhere to be found, Charlotte panics. Frantically searching everywhere, Charlotte knows she must find the courage to tell Harriet that her beloved only child is missing. And admit that she has only herself to blame.

Harriet, devastated by this unthinkable, unbearable loss, can no longer bring herself to speak to Charlotte again, much less trust her. Now more isolated than ever and struggling to keep her marriage afloat, Harriet believes nothing and no one. But as the police bear down on both women trying to piece together the puzzle of what happened to this little girl, dark secrets begin to surface—and Harriet discovers that confiding in Charlotte again may be the only thing that will reunite her with her daughter….

My Thoughts: What a whirlwind ride! Her One Mistake begins  as a lost child scenario, but as alternating narrators reveal more of the story, we see that the players in this layered and deceptive drama are not who they seem to be.

Harriet and Brian caught my interest early on, as there was something very odd about their dynamic. While townsfolk, along with the media, point a finger at Charlotte, they should be paying attention to the two of them.

As the story unfolds, I must stop the revelations, to avoid spoilers. Suffice it to say you will hang on tight throughout this breathless ride…and you will not be disappointed. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: ON TURPENTINE LANE, BY ELINOR LIPMAN

 

At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater. It’s a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiancé is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state). And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he’s Chagall.

When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence . . .

 

My Thoughts: My mood led me to On Turpentine Lane, a book that had been languishing on my Kindle, and as I turned each page with fresh delight, I knew I would be engaged throughout.

The story opens with Faith buying a charming bungalow with a lot of quirky elements, not the least of which would lead to a twisty kind of mystery involving previous residents of the home.

Mix in the delightful banter between two friends and coworkers, Faith and Nick, and you are off on a journey toward a hopeful ending.

In the beginning, Faith had a walkabout fiancé that I was pleased to watch her kick to the curb. From there, it was only a matter of time until she improved her situation. I thoroughly enjoyed how the story came together into a very satisfying denouement. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: NOT HERE, BY GENEVIEVE NOCOVO

 

In San Francisco, where the poor are systematically displaced by well-off yuppies, Dina Ostica is part of the problem. The damaged, determined twenty-three-year-old scrambles to make a name for herself in the burgeoning world of podcasting, with the city as her muse. She is hell-bent on professional success, thinking it will mend her broken spirit.

But when her go-to source on local history disappears without warning, she begins to uncover an uncanny pattern that hits too close to home, getting her tied up in the city’s underbelly.

What follows is a gritty tale of exploitation, betrayal, and the strength one needs to survive the whims of those in power.

Will Dina escape or fall victim to the injustice chewing up the city?

My Thoughts: Dina Ostica was an appealing protagonist, and her story in Not Here focused on chasing a dream while trying to do good deeds. Her new life in SF was going to be a great place to achieve her goals, but unfortunately for her, she didn’t know how to protect herself completely from those who would do her harm. I couldn’t help but blame the abusive relationship she had had prior to moving to SF. The domineering fiancé had turned her world upside down and damaged her confidence.

She spent a lot of time in a gym, studying martial arts, but when the evil characters came after her, she was unprepared and unable to save herself.

Until the end. The intense actions of those who would victimize her kept me rapidly turning pages, even as I wondered what had happened to her martial arts skills when she needed them. In the end, Dina came out fighting, finally turning her life around. 3.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SUSPECT, BY FIONA BARTON

 

When two eighteen-year-old girls go missing in Thailand, their families are thrust into the international spotlight: desperate, bereft, and frantic with worry. What were the girls up to before they disappeared?

Journalist Kate Waters always does everything she can to be first to the story, first with the exclusive, first to discover the truth—and this time is no exception. But she can’t help but think of her own son, whom she hasn’t seen in two years, since he left home to go travelling.

As the case of the missing girls unfolds, they will all find that even this far away, danger can lie closer to home than you might think…

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed other books by this author, including the recurring appearance of Kate Waters, the journalist. She feels like an old friend, and her first person narrative personalizes her perspective even more.

How does the addition of Kate’s own son, Jake, add to the intensity?

I liked the short chapters and the switching between parents, detectives, and journalists…giving us an emotional layer we might otherwise lose in the mix.

While the detectives, parents, and journalists are revealing their stories, we see flash backs of the girls in Thailand, and with each page, we see that danger has been lurking from the beginning.

We also see the early conflicts, primarily because Alex had been planning the trip with an old friend, Mags, who had bowed out at the last moment. The substitution of Rosie, who was not a very close friend, would turn out to be a big mistake.

Will the revelations bring peace? Or will more pain and conflict arise? A slow build that didn’t feel slow, since we moved from one set of characters to another, The Suspect held my interest throughout, while touching that emotional core as I empathized with the characters.

As the police and press shift from one suspect to another, taking many wrong turns along the way, I kept guessing, and then learning something different at the next turn. The final answers left a few loose threads…and some moral ambiguity. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE FAMILY AT NO. 13, BY S.D. MONAGHAN

 

Mary has everything. Beautiful and rich, she lives on an exclusive street in the heart of the city, in a house with gorgeous views and an immaculately maintained garden. Her life looks perfect.

But behind closed doors the truth is very different. Her husband Andrew barely speaks to her, spending his days down in the basement alone. Her teenage nephew is full of rage, lashing out with no warning. Her carefully constructed life is beginning to fall apart.

And then someone starts sending Mary anonymous notes, threatening her and her family…

Everyone has secrets. But is someone at number 13 hiding something that could put the whole family in danger?

 

My Thoughts: Connor is one of the first characters we meet in The Family at No. 13. He is a therapist trying to live and work in a building that has many issues, so when he is offered a bungalow in a nice neighborhood, he thinks everything will be great.

But nothing is as it seems in the new neighborhood, beginning with the fact that a patient he just discharged lives right down the street, and the people next door have a horrific teenage boy living with them. A rage-filled boy who relishes bouncing loudly up and down on a trampoline and torturing animals.

Alternating narrators tell the stories of the neighborhood. Mary’s voice is a first-person look into her life and her experiences. We later learn the story of the boy, Finbarr, which does offer a more compassionate perspective, but does not make him any more likable.

What are the secrets that are dictating the lives of the neighbors, and how will Connor deal with the new life he has chosen? What convoluted events will turn the neighborhood upside down and change the lives of the residents? 4.5

***

REVIEW: THOSE OTHER WOMEN, BY NICOLA MORIARTY

 

A laser look at the uneasy relationships between women and the real-world ramifications of online conflicts and social media hostilities in this stunning domestic drama. A story of privilege, unspoken rivalries, and small acts of vengeance with huge repercussions sure to please fans of Sarah Jio and Ruth Ware.

Overwhelmed at the office and reeling from betrayals involving the people she loves, Poppy feels as if her world has tipped sideways. Maybe her colleague, Annalise, is right—Poppy needs to let loose and blow off some steam. What better way to vent than social media?

With Annalise, she creates an invitation-only Facebook group that quickly takes off. Suddenly, Poppy feels like she’s back in control—until someone be-gins leaking the group’s private posts and stirring up a nasty backlash, shattering her confidence.

Feeling judged by disapproving female colleagues and her own disappointed children, Frankie, too, is careening towards the breaking point. She also knows something shocking about her boss—sensitive knowledge that is tearing her apart.

As things begin to slide disastrously, dangerously out of control, carefully concealed secrets and lies are exposed with devastating consequences—forcing these women to face painful truths about their lives and the things they do to survive.

 

My Thoughts: Poppy’s world crashes down around her as a result of a big betrayal. Afterwards, she is vulnerable to Annalise, a colleague who is encouraging her to change everything about her life. Together they attempt an experiment. They create the online group that will define their world for a while…and then everything begins to come apart.

Multiple narrators from opposing groups reveal the perspectives of the women. I liked how each of them had secrets and fought hard to protect them.

How would the conflicts begin to surface and change the nature of their groups and their lives?

A narrator writing letters anonymously is not revealed until the end. I thought I knew whose voice brought that part of the story, but as time passed, several possibilities presented themselves until finally, the hidden parts of all their lives came to light.

Those Other Women was an interesting story about how women, wanting support and comfort in others like them, found out how to meet their needs in kinder, gentler ways. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: SOPHIE LAST SEEN, BY MARLENE ADELSTEIN

 

Six years ago, ten-year-old Sophie Albright disappeared from a shopping mall. Her mother, Jesse, is left in a self-destructive limbo, haunted by memories of her intense and difficult child, who was obsessed with birds. Trapped in her grief and guilt, Jesse stumbles through her workdays at a bookstore and spends her off hours poring over Sophie’s bird journals or haunting the mall to search for the face of her missing child.

When Star Silverman, Sophie’s best friend, starts working at the bookstore, Jesse is uncomfortable around the sarcastic teen, who is a constant reminder of her daughter. But Star has secrets of her own, and her childhood memories could be the key to solving Sophie’s disappearance.

With help from Star and Kentucky “Tuck” Barnes, a private detective on the trail of another missing girl, Jesse may finally get some closure, one way or the other.

My Thoughts: From the first pages of Sophie Last Seen, I was caught up in the emotional life of her bereft mother, Jesse. Sadly, the town has now stopped caring about Jesse and her loss, and the isolation she feels drives her to make even more bad choices.

Men, alcohol, and her hoarding of items that seem to be messages from Sophie keep Jesse slightly off-center. Her ex-husband is pushing her to sell the house, but she can’t imagine giving up Sophie’s home or even packing away all the precious objects that are reminders.

But there are more secrets that slowly come to the surface, and Jesse will have to confront what is really keeping her captive in the past and in her grief. Star is another one with dark secrets. Will she finally share them? Will answers come to both of them?

How Sophie’s notebooks and the birding connection led the characters to answers kept me intrigued throughout. There was also a mystical undercurrent that brought hidden dimensions and the ability to move on. 5 stars.

***