REVIEW: THE ARRANGEMENT, BY SARAH DUNN

Lucy and Owen, ambitious, thoroughly-therapized New Yorkers, have taken the plunge, trading in their crazy life in a cramped apartment for Beekman, a bucolic Hudson Valley exurb. They’ve got a two hundred year-old house, an autistic son obsessed with the Titanic, and 17 chickens, at last count. It’s the kind of paradise where stay-at-home moms team up to cook the school’s “hot lunch,” dads grill grass-fed burgers, and, as Lucy observes, “chopping kale has become a certain kind of American housewife’s version of chopping wood.”

When friends at a wine-soaked dinner party reveal they’ve made their marriage open, sensible Lucy balks. There’s a part of her, though-the part that worries she’s become too comfortable being invisible-that’s intrigued. Why not try a short marital experiment? Six months, clear ground rules, zero questions asked. When an affair with a man in the city begins to seem more enticing than the happily-ever-after she’s known for the past nine years, Lucy must decide what truly makes her happy-“real life,” or the “experiment?”

My Thoughts: Almost immediately, my eyes glazed over at the image of the “bucolic life” of these characters, but I wanted to know what they would do with the experiment.

It didn’t take long to realize that there would be consequences. Would they be able to move beyond The Arrangement?

I felt a connection to both Lucy and Owen. There were no “bad guys” here, just vulnerable ones hoping to find something that would strengthen their marriage.

Yes, they believed that their little experiment would make them stronger. But they were not prepared for the unexpected.

How did Owen deal with an out-of-control lover named Izzy? What will Lucy do about unexpectedly falling in love with Ben?

In addition to our two main characters, there were others within the community who would learn more about themselves and travel down unique pathways.

I was hooked by the story, remembering how I came from an era of experimentation and learning more about ourselves through these “out there” times. I would award this book 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE WIDOWER’S WIFE, BY CATE HOLAHAN

 

Ana Bacon, a beautiful young wife and mother, tumbled off a cruise ship into dark and deadly waters. Ana is gone–leaving behind her wealthy husband and adorable daughter–but not everything about her disappearance adds up. What secrets did she leave behind?
My Thoughts: Before the fatal cruise, Tom and Ana were barely holding on financially. Tom had been unemployed for a while, and his beautiful wife Ana had lost her job recently under mysterious circumstances. Many secrets are hidden behind these closed doors. What will Tom and Ana do to find a way out of their financial difficulties? How will they protect their three-year-old daughter Sophie?

The Widower’s Wife is told in alternating narratives, from Ana’s first person voice in August, leading up to the end of that cruise; and then we have the voice of an insurance investigator, Ryan Monahan. His narrative begins in November, as he tries to determine if he should pay out the insurance benefit. He has some serious concerns about the story Tom is telling.

The back and forth storyline shows the reader Ana’s thoughts and what she and Tom had planned, and as we read Ryan’s narrative, we see how far off track their plans led them.

This was a story I could not stop reading, wanting to know how it all played out, but there were also some twists that strained credibility and kept me from truly immersing myself in its outcome. In the end, I decided to go with it and imagine that all would work out for my favorite characters. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: SMALL HOURS, BY JENNIFER KITSES

 

In the vein of Richard Russo and Tom Perrotta, a gripping, suspenseful, and gorgeous debut novel–told hour-by-hour over the course of a single day–in which a husband and wife try to outrun long-buried secrets, sending their lives spiraling into chaos.

My Thoughts: Tom Foster and Helen Nichols had fled urban NY with their twin daughters, Sophie and Ilona, hoping to find a more peaceful life. They settled into small town Devon, but after Tom lost his job, and after the financial downturn, they found themselves scrambling, just to meet the bills and to work out their child care arrangements.

But both Tom and Helen were keeping secrets, and the darkness of their hidden selves and Tom’s secret life brought them to a crisis that could have unraveled everything.

Alternating narratives between Tom and Helen gave the reader a look at those secrets, and how each of them was treading water, headed “out to sea.”

The narratives flashed back to the past, too, revealing some of what led them to this point in time: this one long day that became a series of defining moments.

Miscommunication, misunderstandings, and outside stress led to the chaos they faced at the end of one long day. Small moments had escalated and now they would have to ask themselves what they would give up…and what they wanted to keep. Small Hours was captivating with engaging characters, so I could not stop reading. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: BRIDGES, BY MARIA MURNANE

 

It’s a piece of news Daphne never expected to hear: Her globe-trotting friend Skylar, who vowed never to get married, is engaged! Time to celebrate in Manhattan—Skylar’s treat, of course. After years scaling the corporate ladder, she can more than afford it.

Daphne arrives in NYC with news of her own—the novel she’s finally finished appears to be going nowhere but the trash bin of every publishing house around. She’s devastated but plans to keep her disappointment under wraps, something that becomes trickier when she sees Skylar’s spectacular apartment. Could her life have been like this if she’d chosen a different path?

What Daphne doesn’t know is she’s not the only one with a secret. Skylar and their friend KC are also holding something back, but what? As the trip unfolds, the truth about each woman emerges, along with tears.

And laughter. And love.

My Thoughts: Who doesn’t love a great friends’ weekend? I definitely couldn’t wait to curl up with these three college friends for a Manhattan getaway, to celebrate something special, and to reconnect.

Bridges was the kind of story that resonated with me, as I have always enjoyed the special connections that I’ve felt with college friends. Add in the perfect setting of Manhattan, and there is nothing better. Girl talk, sharing secrets, and even trying new things.

Daphne was my favorite character, primarily because she was a single mother and an aspiring author. I loved watching her experience her first trip to Manhattan. I could see Skylar’s world from her perspective, including visualizing the fabulous apartment that she shared with her fiancé James. I walked the streets with her and her friends. From the Brooklyn Bridge to the cute boutiques and flea markets, I felt as though I was along for the ride.

I was a little intimidated by Skylar, and even by her soon-to-be stepdaughter Sloane…until one night when Daphne lost her cool and let Skylar have it. It was inevitable that old feelings of envy might creep into their moments together, but those conflicts made them all feel very real. When envy reared its head, the air was cleared and they grew even closer.

Events unfolded in unexpected ways, and by the end of the weekend, I wanted more. More of the friends and their unique connection, and more about Daphne’s writing experiences. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came to me from the author/publisher via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: IDAHO, BY EMILY RUSKOVICH

 

Ann and Wade have carved out a life for themselves from a rugged landscape in northern Idaho, where they are bound together by more than love. With her husband’s memory fading, Ann attempts to piece together the truth of what happened to Wade’s first wife, Jenny, and to their daughters. In a story written in exquisite prose and told from multiple perspectives—including Ann, Wade, and Jenny, now in prison—we gradually learn of the mysterious and shocking act that fractured Wade and Jenny’s lives, of the love and compassion that brought Ann and Wade together, and of the memories that reverberate through the lives of every character in Idaho.

In a wild emotional and physical landscape, Wade’s past becomes the center of Ann’s imagination, as Ann becomes determined to understand the family she never knew—and to take responsibility for them, reassembling their lives, and her own.

My Thoughts: In the very beginning of Idaho, we are introduced to Ann and Wade at a time in their lives when Wade’s memories are beginning to fade.

I could visualize the scenery of their mountaintop home and understood why they remained there, even though Wade had lived there with his first wife Jenny, and their two daughters, June and May.

The story goes back and forth in time, to Wade’s childhood, Ann’s younger years, and then leaps ahead to a time in the distant future, when Wade is no longer a part of the picture. We watch as Ann carefully arranges her life so that she can move on.

We see the life Wade and Jenny had together, and then we flash forward to Jenny in prison, how she copes, and the one friendship she maintains with a woman named Elizabeth.

The tragedy that led to Jenny’s imprisonment was one that left this reader with many questions, and by the end, hanging in there and hoping for clear answers. Through Ann’s searching and imagining, we think we have it figured out…but it is only guesswork.

No clear resolution made the book feel frustrating, although it was well written. It will be one that stays with me, mostly because the book felt like a puzzle I could not quite solve. We do have a sense of Ann moving forward, however, and can visualize some of what lies ahead for Jenny. A 4 star read.

***

REVIEW: THE GOOD DAUGHTER, BY ALEXANDRA BURT

 

 

What if you were the worst crime your mother ever committed?
 
Dahlia Waller’s childhood memories consist of stuffy cars, seedy motels, and a rootless existence traveling the country with her eccentric mother. Now grown, she desperately wants to distance herself from that life. Yet one thing is stopping her from moving forward: she has questions.
 
In order to understand her past, Dahlia must go back. Back to her mother in the stifling town of Aurora, Texas. Back into the past of a woman on the brink of madness. But after she discovers three grave-like mounds on a neighboring farm, she’ll learn that in her mother’s world of secrets, not all questions are meant to be answered…
My Thoughts: We begin The Good Daughter with a mother and child, endlessly driving from one place to another, crossing state lines, from Texas, to New Mexico, and to California, occasionally stopping for a while. As the child grows, she begins to realize that her life is not like the lives of other people. Her mother is secretive, fearful, and has strange habits, like collecting crickets in jars. Her mother calls her “Pet,” but then at some point tells her she is named Dahlia, and that she is Memphis Waller.

They settle again in Aurora, Texas. But always there is a major hurdle to a normal life: what Dahlia calls “paperwork issues.” There are no birth certificates or social security numbers, so all jobs are worked off the books.

After high school, Dahlia leaves Texas and is gone for fifteen years. Upon her return, she connects with an old friend, Bobby, who is now a cop. She continues to work off the books, used to it by now, while still feeling some resentment at how she and her mother have lived their lives.

Shortly after returning “home,” Dahlia is out jogging and stumbles upon a girl, badly beaten and unconscious. The mystery of who she is and what happened to her will hover over the story until the end.

Alternating narratives from the past show moments in the lives of Quinn, Tain, and an old woman named Aella. Their stories somehow mesh with the lives of Memphis and Dahlia, but we will not connect the dots until finally, near the end, Memphis starts sharing the tale in bits and pieces.

I kept reading because I wanted the answers, and I was definitely curious about what was behind all the secrets Memphis was keeping. So much of what had happened to her was horrific, so I could empathize. But I was also very glad for the story to end. It was repetitive in parts, as each character told bits of her story. I felt closure at the end, so in that sense, it was satisfactory. But for me, it earned 3.5 stars.

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REVIEW: HOW WILL I KNOW YOU?, BY JESSICA TREADWAY

how-will-i-know-you

 

 

On a cold December day, the body of high school senior Joy Enright is discovered in the woods at the edge of a frozen pond. Her death looks like a tragic drowning accident at first, but an autopsy reveals something sinister — the teenager’s body shows unmistakable signs of strangulation. The discovery upends an otherwise uneventful small town, as police grapple with a rare homicide case and those closest to Joy wonder how she could have been taken from them — and by whom. Susanne, Joy’s mother, tries to reconcile past betrayals with their wrenching consequences. Martin, an African-American graduate student, faces ostracism when blame is cast on him. Tom, a rescue diver and son-in-law of the town’s police chief, doubts both the police’s methods and his own perceptions. And Harper, Joy’s best friend, tries to figure out why she disappeared from Harper’s life months before she actually went missing.

In a close-knit community where everyone knows someone else’s secret, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is exposed. In this gripping novel, author Jessica Treadway explores the ways in which families both thrive and falter, and how seemingly small bad choices can escalate—with fatal consequences.

 

My Thoughts:  In small town life, it is hard to keep secrets, despite the efforts of the rich and powerful to hold onto their own.

How Will I Know You? is a story that unfolds in unexpected ways. We follow the lives of Doug Armstrong, a cop who is determined to insure his position as permanent Chief of Police; a teenager, Joy Enright, desperate to help her family finances and reduce conflicts; another teenager, Harper Grove, caught up in the ordinary struggles of life, when the inability to win friends seems too much to handle; and finally, we watch the grown-ups, like Susanne Enright and Martin Willett, or Tom and Allison Carbone, make bad choices and then try to dig themselves out of the consequences. All of these moments set up the drama that unfolds during one winter when a confluence of bad choices takes them all too far and a life is lost.

Multiple narrators show us the before and after moments, gradually revealing bits and pieces of lives in a downward spiral. On the surface, the characters seemed very sure that they could turn things around, dig out of their individual holes, and make everything right again. As they grow increasingly desperate, we are reminded that sometimes, “if you have gone too far, then you cannot go back again.”

A thoroughly engaging novel that could have benefited from a “less is more” approach did keep me captivated until the final page. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***