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.

***

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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.

***

REVIEW: EMILY, ALONE, BY STEWART O’NAN

 

A sequel to the bestselling, much-beloved Wish You Were Here, Stewart O’Nan’s intimate new novel follows Emily Maxwell, a widow whose grown children have long moved away. She dreams of visits by her grandchildren while mourning the turnover of her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood, but when her sole companion and sister-in-law Arlene faints at their favorite breakfast buffet, Emily’s days change. As she grapples with her new independence, she discovers a hidden strength and realizes that life always offers new possibilities. Like most older women, Emily is a familiar yet invisible figure, one rarely portrayed so honestly. Her mingled feelings—of pride and regret, joy and sorrow— are gracefully rendered in wholly unexpected ways. Once again making the ordinary and overlooked not merely visible but vital to understanding our own lives, Emily, Alone confirms O’Nan as an American master.

 

My Thoughts: As the years pass, people begin to settle into their routines, expecting little else except loss and the passage of time. But the characters in Emily, Alone, especially Emily herself, show us that each day can bring new life and new experiences.

Emily and her sister-in-law Arlene have their established routines: lunch on Tuesday at the diner, with their coupon. Occasional walks and visits to art museums. Looking ahead to the holidays. On one such day at the diner, however, Arlene has an episode that leads to hospitalization, and Emily’s routines are shaken to the core. She has to start driving again so she can visit Arlene and bring things to her. She varies her days, and even in the exhaustion of it all, there is something rejuvenating.

The holidays bring reminders of the family conflicts and issues, but with her new lease on life, Emily finds ways to enjoy the moments. And even with each loss, she realizes that each new day is a gift.

I liked how she enjoyed each day, even after some extra challenges, including aches, pains, and illnesses. Her dog Rufus was her steady companion and added an extra something to the story.

The inevitability of death follows each day, but so does the bliss of new possibilities with the dawn. The story was slow, but in that savoring kind of pace that I love now and then. As we followed the seasons, the holidays, and the measured routines of each day, the passage of time brought something new and inspirational, even as the end also loomed. By the conclusion, I felt as though Emily was a friend I would never forget.

***

REVIEW: THE PERFECT LIAR, BY THOMAS CHRISTOPHER GREENE

 

Susannah, a young widow and single mother, has remarried well: to Max, a charismatic artist and popular speaker whose career took her and her fifteen-year-old son out of New York City and to a quiet Vermont university town. Strong-willed and attractive, Susannah expects that her life is perfectly in place again. Then one quiet morning she finds a note on her door: I KNOW WHO YOU ARE.

Max dismisses the note as a prank. But days after a neighborhood couple comes to dinner, the husband mysteriously dies in a tragic accident while on a run with Max. Soon thereafter, a second note appears on their door: DID YOU GET AWAY WITH IT?

Both Susannah and Max are keeping secrets from the world and from each other—secrets that could destroy their family and everything they have built. Thomas Christopher Greene’s The Perfect Liar is a thrilling novel told through the alternating perspectives of Susannah and Max with a shocking climax that no one will expect, from the bestselling author of The Headmaster’s Wife.

My Thoughts: The Perfect Liar opens when Susannah finds a frightening note on their front door. Not sure what to do, she calls her husband Max, who is also concerned. But then he reassures her.

As the story begins to unfold, we learn more about the secrets Max and Susannah are keeping, but neither is aware of the other’s duplicity. As more time goes by, however, we see the lack of trust building between them and feel a hint of what might happen next.

We learn Max’s secrets first, and only part of Susannah’s. As the pages turn quickly, with a rapid pace, the intensity increases. There is a sense of heightening danger throughout, and just when we think we have the answers, we will be stunned by another revelation.

It was hard to know who to root for, as each character seemed to hold just enough of the cards to be a threat to the other.

A thrilling domestic drama that kept me on the edge of my chair, this one earned 5 stars.


***I received the e-ARC from the publisher via NetGalley

REVIEW: TELL ME LIES, BY CAROLA LOVERING

 

Lucy Albright is far from her Long Island upbringing when she arrives on the campus of her small California college, and happy to be hundreds of miles from her mother, whom she’s never forgiven for an act of betrayal in her early teen years. Quickly grasping at her fresh start, Lucy embraces college life and all it has to offer—new friends, wild parties, stimulating classes. And then she meets Stephen DeMarco. Charming. Attractive. Complicated. Devastating.

Confident and cocksure, Stephen sees something in Lucy that no one else has, and she’s quickly seduced by this vision of herself, and the sense of possibility that his attention brings her. Meanwhile, Stephen is determined to forget an incident buried in his past that, if exposed, could ruin him, and his single-minded drive for success extends to winning, and keeping, Lucy’s heart.

Lucy knows there’s something about Stephen that isn’t to be trusted. Stephen knows Lucy can’t tear herself away. And their addicting entanglement will have consequences they never could have imagined.

My Thoughts: Tell Me Lies sweeps back and forth through time but begins in the present with Lucy Albright attending the wedding of one of her best friends from college. She is living in Manhattan, but her thoughts on this day take her back to her college years in California.

Lucy and Stephen had one of those relationships that never seemed to progress. They couldn’t seem to stay together for various reasons, but they couldn’t stay apart, either.

What drew them together? What kept them apart? Their inability to make the relationship work or stay away from each other kept me frustrated on their behalf.

They each had issues from the past that factored into their mishaps with one another, and these problems were severe enough that they seemed doomed to never have what they wanted from each other. As the story unfolded, and each narrator shared moments that had affected them, it was easy to see that the patterns of behavior were deeply entrenched, and the traumas of the past had contributed in some way. One shocking event from the past was revealed near the end and made the story feel climactic.

I found each of these characters frustrating and hoped that they would eventually manage to move on. But I was also curious enough to keep reading. I did enjoy how the author added that unique flavor of each setting, from LA to Manhattan, allowing the reader to experience the moments with the characters: tasting the hot dogs or the drinks, feeling the ambience of the various bars and restaurants, and seeing the interiors of the apartments and homes. A slower read than I usually choose, but in the end, it was enjoyable. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: WHAT HAPPENED, BY HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON

 

In this “candid and blackly funny” (The New York Times) memoir, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. She takes us inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules.

“At her most emotionally raw” (People), Hillary describes what it was like to run against Donald Trump, the mistakes she made, how she has coped with a shocking and devastating loss, and how she found the strength to pick herself back up afterward. She tells readers what it took to get back on her feet—the rituals, relationships, and reading that got her through, and what the experience has taught her about life. In this “feminist manifesto” (The New York Times), she speaks to the challenges of being a strong woman in the public eye, the criticism over her voice, age, and appearance, and the double standard confronting women in politics.

Offering a “bracing… guide to our political arena” (The Washington Post), What Happened lays out how the 2016 election was marked by an unprecedented assault on our democracy by a foreign adversary. By analyzing the evidence and connecting the dots, Hillary shows just how dangerous the forces are that shaped the outcome, and why Americans need to understand them to protect our values and our democracy in the future.

 

My Thoughts: What Happened offered a glimpse into the campaign and her life leading up to it; a look at HRC’s reaction afterwards; and some solutions about how to move forward despite the negative ramifications for the election.

HRC showed us that forces at work have played on people’s fears and anger, and how a candidate who provokes the darkest thoughts and feelings can appeal to those who are searching for ways to release those emotions.

Clinton also discussed in depth how the timing of the email controversy, which had turned out not to compromise security in any way, had gained so much importance in the media and critically affected how people viewed her actions. Comey’s announcement of continuing the investigation after he had initially closed it made the whole thing worse. And then, when he backtracked, that fact had little effect. By the same token, Comey’s failure to bring out the Russian interference in a timely matter allowed the election to proceed without giving the voters information that might have made a difference.

I came away from the book with an enhanced frustration about how we access information, and how we decide what and whom to believe when there are so many conflicting voices out there. Especially when there appears to be a concerted effort by some to make it harder for citizens to distinguish between truth and lies.

An excellent book that took me a few weeks to read, since I perused just a few chapters at a time. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WE WERE MOTHERS, BY KATIE SISE

 

A scandalous revelation is about to devastate a picturesque town where the houses are immaculate and the neighborhoods are tightly knit. Devoted mother Cora O’Connell has found the journal of her friend Laurel’s daughter—a beautiful college student who lives next door—revealing an illicit encounter. Hours later, Laurel makes a shattering discovery of her own: her daughter has vanished without a trace. Over the course of one weekend, the crises of two close families are about to trigger a chain reaction that will expose a far more disturbing web of secrets. Now everything is at stake as they’re forced to confront the lies they have told in order to survive.

My Thoughts: We Were Mothers offers a peek behind closed doors as friends and neighbors in a small town show up for various social events, even as their lives are untangling a web of secrets and lies.

Alternating narrators take us to the past, while also bringing out the contemporary dramas in their lives.

At times, I found the characters confusing, as we zeroed in on their troubles. There was little to differentiate them from one another, except for their names. I had to take notes to keep their stories separate.

By the end, their individual stories seemed to mesh together, making them even less unique and more like cardboard characters. Perhaps the truth behind each story did not distinguish them much, but overall, their lives were all in crisis of one kind or another, which kept me reading. Not memorable or interesting enough, however. 3 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE OTHER WIFE, BY MICHAEL ROBOTHAM

 

Childhood sweethearts William and Mary have been married for sixty years. William is a celebrated surgeon, Mary a devoted wife. Both have a strong sense of right and wrong.

This is what their son, Joe O’Loughlin, has always believed. But when Joe is summoned to the hospital with news that his father has been brutally attacked, his world is turned upside down. Who is the strange woman crying at William’s bedside, covered in his blood – a friend, a mis-tress, a fantasist or a killer?

Against the advice of the police, Joe launches his own investigation. As he learns more, he dis-covers sides to his father he never knew – and is forcibly reminded that the truth comes at a price.

 

 

My Thoughts: Joe is struggling with the loss of his wife, and parenting his two young daughters, Charlie and Emma, is a constant reminder of the loss. Emma’s struggles are interfering with her behavior at school, and when the staff suggest that she has deeper issues, Joe resists the labels they are putting on her. He is a psychologist, after all, and wouldn’t he know if his own daughter had serious problems?

His Parkinson’s Disease is under control, mostly, but there are daily reminders of what lies ahead.

When his father is brutally attacked and injured, Joe fiercely pushes ahead to find answers, despite the warnings from the police. But there is something troubling about his father’s mistress, Olivia, who insists she is his wife. In learning more about her history, as well as William’s own past mistakes and errors of judgment, Joe begins to realize that the mysteries are dark and deep.

I enjoyed The Other Wife and the characters and felt as though I knew them all.

What would Joe uncover as he meets up with friends and acquaintances from the past? Would the old adage “follow the money” take him to unexpected places and answers? Old resentments add to the mix, and when we reach the conclusion, we feel hope. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HER PRETTY FACE, BY ROBYN HARDING

 

Frances Metcalfe is struggling to stay afloat.

A stay-at-home mom whose troubled son is her full-time job, she thought that the day he got accepted into the elite Forrester Academy would be the day she started living her life. Overweight, insecure, and lonely, she is desperate to fit into Forrester’s world. But after a disturbing incident at the school leads the other children and their families to ostracize the Metcalfes, she feels more alone than ever before.

Until she meets Kate Randolph.

Kate is everything Frances is not: beautiful, wealthy, powerful, and confident. And for some reason, she’s not interested in being friends with any of the other Forrester moms—only Frances. As the two bond over their disdain of the Forrester snobs and the fierce love they have for their sons, a startling secret threatens to tear them apart.

Because one of these women is not who she seems.

My Thoughts: Her Pretty Face opens with an article from 1996: a teenager was murdered in Arizona. What, if anything, connects these happenings to the current day characters?

I could empathize with Frances and how she has been ostracized by the other school moms due to something her son Marcus did. One can sense that she has had her own experiences from childhood that set her apart…if she could only talk about those events.

So when the gorgeous and wealthy Kate offers friendship, and their sons get along, which really helps Marcus begin to settle into the school, Frances feels connected and understood for the first time ever. Something had happened in her own past that led to her feelings of alienation.

In a back and forth storyline that begins to reveal more from the past events, I could see where the plot was taking us…and then was stunned by the final revelations. Daisy, Kate’s teenage daughter, gave an alternating narrative that led us to a greater understanding of the characters and their secrets, while intriguing us with more questions.

A riveting 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: OPEN YOUR EYES, BY PAULA DALY

 

Jane Campbell avoids confrontation at any costs. Given the choice, she’ll always let her husband, Leon―a bestselling crime writer―take the lead, while she focuses on her two precious young children and her job as a creative writing teacher. After she receives another rejection for her novel, Leon urges Jane to put her hobby to rest. And why shouldn’t she, when through Jane’s rose-tinted glasses, they appear to have the perfect house and the perfect life?

But then Leon is brutally attacked in their driveway while their children wait quietly in the car, and suddenly, their perfect life becomes the stuff of nightmares. Who would commit such a hateful offense in broad daylight? With her husband in a coma, Jane must open her eyes to the problems in her life, as well as the secrets that have been kept from her. Although she might not like what she sees, if she’s committed to discovering who hurt her husband―and why―Jane must take matters into her own hands.

 

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of Paula Daly, so I was eager to read Open Your Eyes. From the very beginning, I was caught up in the lives of Jane and her husband Leon. What happened to him upended their lives, and as I rapidly turned the pages, I kept asking myself who among their acquaintances would have done such a horrendous thing? But as Jane makes discoveries and realizes the extent of Leon’s secrets, she is afraid. And when the police seem to be looking in all the wrong directions, Jane tries to figure some of it out on her own. But will her efforts take her into more dangerous places?

I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next, so the pages flew by. Just when I thought I had it figured out, the answers came seemingly out of nowhere. I loved how the twists and turns took us into the dark side of the publishing world. 5 stars.

***