REVIEW: THAT SUMMER, BY JENNIFER WEINER

Daisy Shoemaker can’t sleep. With a thriving cooking business, full schedule of volunteer work, and a beautiful home in the Philadelphia suburbs, she should be content. But her teenage daughter can be a handful, her husband can be distant, her work can feel trivial, and she has lots of acquaintances, but no real friends. Still, Daisy knows she’s got it good. So why is she up all night?

While Daisy tries to identify the root of her dissatisfaction, she’s also receiving misdirected emails meant for a woman named Diana Starling, whose email address is just one punctuation mark away from her own. While Daisy’s driving carpools, Diana is chairing meetings. While Daisy’s making dinner, Diana’s making plans to reorganize corporations. Diana’s glamorous, sophisticated, single-lady life is miles away from Daisy’s simpler existence. When an apology leads to an invitation, the two women meet and become friends. But, as they get closer, we learn that their connection was not completely accidental. Who IS this other woman, and what does she want with Daisy?

From the manicured Main Line of Philadelphia to the wild landscape of the Outer Cape, written with Jennifer Weiner’s signature wit and sharp observations, That Summer is a story about surviving our pasts, confronting our futures, and the sustaining bonds of friendship.

curl up and read thoughts

 

As we follow the tale of two women named Diana, That Summer takes us back and forth in time. Something happened to fifteen-year-old Diana on the Outer Cape, but we don’t discover the details until much later.

Flipping between the present and those past events, we begin to finally understand what happened back then…and what is motivating one Diana in the present day.

As the events come together in the present, filling in the blanks from the past, we are in another #MeToo situation that will suddenly change directions. Will the two Dianas find solutions to the choices of the past and realize what is happening between them now? Meanwhile, “the entire country is in the midst of facing the wreckage of decades of sexual harassment and sexual assault.” Is it a time of reckoning, an inflection point?

As Daisy reflects on her life, her daughter Beatrice reminds her of snippets of the play The Doll’s House, and she begins to change how she views her world and her husband. She can now turn her perspective onto that summer and what happened to the other Diana.

I loved this story, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen.

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

 

REVIEW: TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, BY CAROLA LOVERING

Skye Starling is overjoyed when her boyfriend, Burke Michaels, proposes after a whirlwind courtship. Though Skye seems to have the world at her fingertips—she’s smart, beautiful, and from a well-off family—she’s also battled crippling OCD ever since her mother’s death when she was eleven, and her romantic relationships have suffered as a result.

But now Burke—handsome, older, and more emotionally mature than any man she’s met before—says he wants her. Forever. Except, Burke isn’t who he claims to be. And interspersed letters to his therapist reveal the truth: he’s happily married, and using Skye for his own, deceptive ends.

In a third perspective, set thirty years earlier, a scrappy seventeen-year-old named Heather is determined to end things with Burke, a local bad boy, and make a better life for herself in New York City. But can her adolescent love stay firmly in her past—or will he find his way into her future?

On a collision course she doesn’t see coming, Skye throws herself into wedding planning, as Burke’s scheme grows ever more twisted. But of course, even the best laid plans can go astray. And just when you think you know where this story is going, you’ll discover that there’s more than one way to spin the truth.

 

 

A story that twists and turns repeatedly throughout, Too Good To Be True spotlights bits and pieces via alternating narrators and letters written by two of the characters to their therapist.

Not only the present is revealed, but a story that began thirty years before, which yields just enough about the characters to keep us guessing. And then we are also gifted with the motives that were carefully hidden and finally out in the open.

I was hooked from the beginning but had issues with several of the characters. My favorite was Skye, as she had vulnerabilities that made me want to protect her. As for the others, I was not sorry to see them finally pay some consequences, but in my opinion, they did not pay enough. A 4.5 star read that kept me engaged throughout.

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REVIEW: THE PERFECT MARRIAGE, BY ADAM MITZNER

James and Jessica Sommers are celebrating their first blissful year together, an unexpected second chance at true love. Unfortunately, their newfound shot at happiness is not without collateral damage.

There’s Jessica’s ex-husband. He pretends for all the world that he’s resilient and strong. If only for the sake of their teenage son, profoundly vulnerable in his own way. James’s ex has taken a different road. Bitter, vengeful, and threatening, she wants only the worst for the happy couple. And then there’s the couple themselves: Are they truly as in love as they seem?

When James enters into an extraordinarily profitable, if shady, transaction with a beautiful art dealer, Jessica and James’s seemingly perfect marriage takes a dark and tragic turn.

Amid suspicions, tested loyalties, revenge, and guilt, no one escapes unscathed from sins committed in the name of love.

 
 
curl up and read thoughts

Our characters alternate in telling the story of The Perfect Marriage, and we soon come to realize that they and their relationships are anything but perfect. In fact, sometimes they are deeply flawed.

Like most stories about relationships, the flaws and imperfections give us that extra twist, the ingredients that pull us in.

I found it hard to imagine how this story would play out, but I did have my theories. I was most drawn to young Owen, who was fighting a second round of leukemia.

The darkness descends and soon all the characters are having to explain their actions to escape punishment.

As the story winds down, I kept trying to guess who might have done the deed, and I was truly stunned by how it all played out. A 4.5 star read.

 
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REVIEW: HER DARK LIES, BY J. T. ELLISON

 

Jutting from sparkling turquoise waters off the Italian coast, Isle Isola is an idyllic setting for a wedding. In the majestic cliff-top villa owned by the wealthy Compton family, up-and-coming artist Claire Hunter will marry handsome, charming Jack Compton, surrounded by close family, intimate friends…and a host of dark secrets.

From the moment Claire sets foot on the island, something seems amiss. Skeletal remains have just been found. There are other, newer disturbances, too. Menacing texts. A ruined wedding dress. And one troubling shadow hanging over Claire’s otherwise blissful relationship—the strange mystery surrounding Jack’s first wife.

Then a raging storm descends, the power goes out—and the real terror begins…

 

 

curl up and read thoughts

Claire Hunter is the first-person narrator of Her Dark Lies for most of the story. But an unknown alternate narrator keeps us on our toes as we try to figure out the secrets each of the characters is keeping.

First, we are not completely sure that Jack isn’t hiding important events, and even each of his family members are suspect.

Strange events keep unfolding in the week before the wedding, and suddenly people begin dying, one by one.

Twists and turns kept me turning the pages as I tried to decide who and what to believe. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: KAMALA’S WAY, BY DAN MORAIN

 

A revelatory biography of the first Black woman to stand for Vice President, charting how the daughter of two immigrants in segregated California became one of this country’s most effective power players.

There’s very little that’s conventional about Kamala Harris, and yet her personal story also represents the best of America. She grew up the eldest daughter of a single mother, a no-nonsense cancer researcher who emigrated from India at the age of nineteen in search of a better education. She and her husband, an accomplished economist from Jamaica, split up when Kamala was only five.

The Kamala Harris the public knows today is tough, smart, quick-witted, and demanding. She’s a prosecutor—her one-liners are legendary—but she’s more reticent when it comes to sharing much about herself, even in her memoirs. Fortunately, former Los Angeles Times reporter Dan Morain has been there from the start.

In Kamala’s Way, he charts her career from its beginnings handling child molestation cases and homicides for the Alameda County District Attorney’s office and her relationship as a twenty-nine-year-old with the most powerful man in the state: married Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a relationship that would prove life-changing. Morain takes readers through Harris’s years in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, explores her audacious embrace of the little-known Barack Obama, and shows the sharp elbows she deployed to make it to the US Senate. He analyzes her failure as a presidential candidate and the behind-the-scenes campaign she waged to land the Vice President spot. Along the way, he paints a vivid picture of her values and priorities, the kind of people she brings into her orbit, the sorts of problems she’s good at solving, and the missteps, risks, and bold moves she’s made on her way to the top.

 
 
 

In Kamala’s Way, we meet an unconventional, bright, and ambitious girl who grows into a young woman on the move. A woman with goals and an intensity about achieving them. She had no problem being mentored by powerful people, including an older man who opened some doors for her.

But she worked hard and had the ability to speak out against the wrongs she witnessed in her daily life. Moving from her role as a prosecutor to attorney general of California and finally to a senate seat in 2016, she was poised to become the change that she wanted to effect in the world and was ready to correct the ills she encountered.

Sometimes her “way” put her on a path of antagonizing some, while at other times, her truly compassionate side shone through. In the end, she stayed focused and finally found her true calling in the 2020 election as the Vice President in Joe Biden’s Presidency.

Sometimes the author skipped around a lot in the telling of this story, but he always caught me up in the end. 4.5 stars.#2021ReadNonFic

 
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REVIEW: GUILT BY ASSOCIATION, BY MARCIA CLARK

Los Angeles D.A. Rachel Knight is a tenacious, wise-cracking, and fiercely intelligent prosecutor in the city’s most elite division. When her colleague, Jake, is found dead at a grisly crime scene, Rachel is shaken to the core. She must take over his toughest case: the assault of a young woman from a prominent family.

But she can’t stop herself from digging deeper into Jake’s death, a decision that exposes a world of power and violence and will have her risking her reputation—and her life—to find the truth.

With her tremendous expertise in the nuances of L.A. courts and crime, and with a vibrant ensemble cast of characters, Marcia Clark combines intimate detail, riotous humor, and visceral action in a debut thriller that marks the launch of a major new figure on the crime-writing scene.

 
 
 
 

From the first pages of Guilt by Association, we are drawn into the world of Rachel Knight, a young prosecutor. I liked how the author took us through her days, sharing details that let us into that world. I also enjoyed her personal details, like the fact that she lives in a residential hotel that has a posh ambience. Clearly, she enjoys the good things in life, and the ease that hotel living offers. But she isn’t averse to getting down to the nitty gritty of life on the streets, where she makes the discoveries needed to solve cases.

So when Rachel starts pulling the threads that will unravel a case she is working, she is persistent enough to follow whatever she finds along the way until she has managed to piece together a whole series of cases. The end results were so much more than she could have imagined, and I really loved seeing how she did it all. 4.5 stars.

 
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REVIEW: CONSENT, BY VANESSA SPRINGORA

Already an international literary sensation, an intimate and powerful memoir of a young French teenage girl’s relationship with a famous, much older male writer—a universal #MeToo story of power, manipulation, trauma, recovery, and resiliency that exposes the hypocrisy of a culture that has allowed the sexual abuse of minors to occur unchecked.

Sometimes, all it takes is a single voice to shatter the silence of complicity.

Thirty years ago, Vanessa Springora was the teenage muse of one of the country’s most celebrated writers, a footnote in the narrative of a very influential man in the French literary world.

At the end of 2019, as women around the world began to speak out, Vanessa, now in her forties and the director of one of France’s leading publishing houses, decided to reclaim her own story, offering her perspective of those events sharply known.

Consent is the story of one precocious young girl’s stolen adolescence. Devastating in its honesty, Vanessa’s painstakingly memoir lays bare the cultural attitudes and circumstances that made it possible for a thirteen-year-old girl to become involved with a fifty-year-old man who happened to be a notable writer. As she recalls the events of her childhood and her seduction by one of her country’s most notable writers, Vanessa reflects on the ways in which this disturbing relationship changed and affected her as she grew older.

Drawing parallels between children’s fairy tales and French history and her personal life, Vanessa offers an intimate and absorbing look at the meaning of love and consent and the toll of trauma and the power of healing in women’s lives. Ultimately, she offers a forceful indictment of a chauvinistic literary world that has for too long accepted and helped perpetuate gender inequality and the exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

Translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer

A father, conspicuous only by his absence, who left an unfathomable void, a pronounced taste for reading, a certain sexual precocity, and, most of all, an enormous need to be seen…here we find all the necessary elements now in place.

Thus opens the novel Consent, written by the “victim” of the piece, along with a translator.

Through the pages and in the voice of “V,” we learn the very personal story of a young girl who has found herself trapped and unable to escape. Until much later. And even as the years unfold, the shadow of her perpetrator hovers overhead, indelibly leaving his mark.

I found myself trapped as well, unable to feel anything but disgust for the “famous writer” who has taken over the life of this young woman. Silence means consent, according to the norms of the day.

We might believe that V was complicit in these events, but not when we study the whole of her situation. I could feel nothing but sadness for her, but jubilation in her final escape. A brilliant read. 5 stars.#2021ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: THE PUSH, BY CLAIRE MCGOWAN

 

 

The party should have been perfect: six couples from the same baby group, six newborns, a luxurious house. But not everything has gone to plan, and while some are here to celebrate, others have sorrows to drown. When someone falls from the balcony of the house, the secrets and conflicts within the group begin to spill out …

DS Alison Hegarty, herself struggling with infertility, is called in to investigate. She’s convinced the fall was not an accident, and finds the new parents have a lot to hide. Wealthy Ed and Monica show off their newborn while their teenage daughter is kept under virtual house arrest. Hazel and Cathy conceived their longed-for baby via an anonymous sperm donor—or so Hazel thinks. Anita and Jeremy planned to adopt from America, but there’s no sign of the child. Kelly, whose violent boyfriend disrupted previous group sessions, came to the party even though she lost her baby. And then there’s Jax, who’s been experiencing strange incidents for months—almost like someone’s out to get her. Is it just a difficult pregnancy? Or could it be payback for something she did in the past?

It’s a nightmare of a case, and as events get even darker it begins to look impossible. Only one thing is clear: they all have something to hide. And for one of them, it’s murder.

 
 
 

The Push zooms in on the lives of the parents in the baby group, before and after the event at the barbecue. Each time we are swept back and forth in time, we learn more hidden details. Secrets are slowly revealed. Someone is sending threatening messages to Jax, her cat disappears, and suddenly her car is inexplicably tampered with. Are all these events connected? Her boyfriend Aaron is searching for his birth mother, and strangely, an unknown person seems to be stalking them both.

What happened on that balcony, and how do the mysterious connections between several of the group members play a role in the increased tensions that came to a breaking point?

Jax was the most interesting character, and seemingly had the most to hide. But Monica, basking in her “perfection,” appeared to be the most likely one to have dark buried untruths lurking beneath that vacuous exterior. And how does her teenage daughter Chloe fit into the drama?

Additional mysterious elements include the identity of the victim for a good part of the story. Once that was unveiled, the clues fell into place for me. I knew that several characters played a role, so as events unfolded, the answers felt as simple as snapping together a puzzle. 5 stars.

 
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REVIEW: THE TURN OF THE KEY, BY RUTH WARE

 

 

 

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the home’s cameras, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder—but somebody is.

 
 
 
 

A spooky, surreal setting that had me anxious from the very beginning, The Turn of the Key had me questioning everything that happened. From the parents to the children to the “Smart House,” this story kept me guessing until the end.

I knew that Rowan Caine had told some little lies to get the job, but she certainly didn’t deserve all the events that unfolded in that eerie house in Scotland. Or did she?

First of all, how could she be the perfect nanny in a house in the middle of nowhere, with cameras pointed at her from every room? Cameras that seemingly triggered weird sounds and strange creaks in the night?

The children were weird and sneaky, and the parents, calling from unknown places, seemed overly strange, if not nefarious.

But when some of the details of “Rowan’s” life became clear to the reader, everything intensified.

Not knowing what would happen next kept me turning the pages until the shocking end. 4.5 stars.

 
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REVIEW: THE FOUR WINDS, BY KRISTIN HANNAH

 

From the number-one bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes a powerful American epic about love and heroism and hope, set during the Great Depression, a time when the country was in crisis and at war with itself, when millions were out of work and even the land seemed to have turned against them.

“My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family.”

Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.

By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.

In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.

 
 
 
 
 
A beautiful family story about love, loss, and bravery, The Four Winds tugged at my heartstrings as it led us through numerous challenges while introducing us to memorable characters. Elsa fought hard to teach her children about standing up for what they need and for what is right.

The author paints a vivid picture of the family battling the Great Depression while living in the Texas Dust Bowl, and then takes us along to another battle for survival in the California migrant experience. A triumphant yet emotional end kept me turning pages, while rooting for them all. 4.5 stars.

 
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