REVIEW: LEFT ON TENTH, BY DELIA EPHRON

Delia Ephron had struggled through several years of heartbreak. She’d lost her sister, Nora, and then her husband, Jerry, both to cancer. Several months after Jerry’s death, she decided to make one small change in her life—she shut down his landline, which crashed her internet. She ended up in Verizon hell.

She channeled her grief the best way she knew: by writing a New York Times op-ed. The piece caught the attention of Peter, a Bay Area psychiatrist, who emailed her to commiserate. Recently widowed himself, he reminded her that they had shared a few dates fifty-four years before, set up by Nora. Delia did not remember him, but after several weeks of exchanging emails and sixties folk songs, he flew east to see her. They were crazy, utterly, in love.

But this was not a rom-com: four months later she was diagnosed with AML, a fierce leukemia.

In Left on Tenth, Delia Ephron enchants as she seesaws us between tears and laughter, navigating the suicidal lows of enduring cutting-edge treatment and the giddy highs of a second chance at love. With Peter and her close girlfriends by her side, with startling clarity, warmth, and honesty about facing death, Ephron invites us to join her team of warriors and become believers ourselves.
 
 
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From the very first pages of Left on Tenth, I was caught up in the author’s journey. Moving on from loss, rediscovering love, and then fighting an illness that could do her in.

As she relates her experiences, I felt as if I were right there with her, rooting for her.

I learned more about how one can battle such an illness, and know that there might actually be a good ending to it all. She describes how a “confluence of events” seemingly came together to create her miracle treatment and her new life. Every step of the way felt just like a dream, albeit with some brutal agony along the way via the treatment, and I marveled at it all. 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: BABYSITTER, BY JOYCE CAROL OATES

In the waning days of the turbulent 1970s, in the wake of unsolved child-killings that have shocked Detroit, the lives of several residents are drawn together with tragic consequences.

There is Hannah, wife of a prominent local businessman, who has begun an affair with a darkly charismatic stranger whose identity remains elusive; Mikey, a canny street hustler who finds himself on a chilling mission to rectify injustice; and the serial killer known as Babysitter, an enigmatic and terrifying figure at the periphery of elite Detroit. As Babysitter continues his rampage of abductions and killings, these individuals intersect with one another in startling and unexpected ways.

Suspenseful, brilliantly orchestrated, and engrossing, Babysitter is a starkly narrated exploration of the riskiness of pursuing alternate lives, calling into question how far we are willing to go to protect those whom we cherish most. In its scathing indictment of corrupt politics, unexamined racism, and the enabling of sexual predation in America, Babysitter is a thrilling work of contemporary fiction.

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I alternately love and ponder the books of this author, so I was eager to try Babysitter. There are parts of the book that kept me intrigued, while other aspects felt weird and very confusing. Characters whose voices seem mysterious kept me turning the pages, however, wondering where they would lead us.

The story echoed many moments of the 1970s, though, which interested me.

Overall, I found the book too strange, although it does have the JCO flare. I was relieved for it to end. Therefore, a 3.5 rating.

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REVIEW: THE SHOP ON ROYAL STREET, BY KAREN WHITE

After a difficult detour on her road to adulthood, Nola Trenholm is looking to begin anew in New Orleans, and what better way to start her future than with her first house? But the historic fixer-upper she buys comes with even more work than she anticipated when the house’s previous occupants don’t seem to be ready to depart.
 
Although she can’t communicate with ghosts like her stepmother can, luckily Nola knows someone in New Orleans who is able to—even if he’s the last person on earth she wants anything to do with ever again. Beau Ryan comes with his own dark past—a past that involves the disappearance of his sister and parents during Hurricane Katrina—and he’s connected to the unsolved murder of a woman who once lived in the old Creole cottage Nola is determined to make her own…whether the resident restless spirits agree or not.

 

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When Nola buys the old house that she has been eyeing, we are swept up into the world of New Orleans and friends of the past and the present.  The Shop on Royal Street takes the reader into the mysteries of the spirit world, even for those who are denying their presence.

Lost family members are showing themselves through strange events and objects that reveal much about the people who have gone on to the beyond.

Love and the spirit world mesh together in this story, and as more and more is explained by those who know some secrets, we finally realize what happened to those who have left this world for another.  An intriguing tale that kept me turning pages, this one earned 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE DARKNESS OF OTHERS, BY CATE HOLAHAN

Imani Banks lives in a posh Brooklyn Heights neighborhood that has just been rocked to its core. An acclaimed movie director has been murdered, and his blond trophy wife—Imani’s closest friend—is missing. Their neighbors, along with the media, jump to the conclusion that Melissa Walker has killed her husband in a fit of rage and is on the run.

Fortunately for the missing actress, Imani is a psychiatrist as well as a steadfast friend. She will never give up her search and is determined to prove Melissa’s innocence. It shouldn’t take a degree in human behavior to know that Melissa would never leave her daughter behind.

Recently, Imani and her chef husband rented some extra rooms in their house to a struggling waitress from his restaurant. Tonya Sayre has moved in with her teen daughter and the convenient timing and her suspicious behavior soon lead Imani to suspect that the true killer is living right under her own roof. Now all she has to do is prove it.
 
 
 
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A story set in the Pandemic, The Darkness of Others takes the reader into the midst of the characters’ struggles. Narrated alternately by major characters Imani, Tonya, and Melissa, with supporting characters Philip and others, we soon begin to understand the conflicts and how what is happening to them in this new world order has intensified their lives.

As I followed the journeys of the characters, I felt for each of them, especially Tonya and Imani. These two are at odds with one another because of the circumstances of their lives, but I rooted for them both. I believed that their conflicts were stoked by the events of the world in which they live and the other characters whose issues are adding to their own challenges.

As the story escalates, we soon begin to realize how each of them is endangered by the actions of others. What happened to one of the characters and who actually murdered him heightens the story and keeps us guessing. A tempting tale that earned 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: LONG GONE, BY JOANNA SCHAFFHAUSEN

Chicago detective Annalisa Vega shattered her life, personally and professionally, when she turned in her ex-cop father for his role in a murder. Her family can’t forgive her. Her fellow officers no longer trust her. So when detective Leo Hammond turns up dead in a bizarre murder, Annalisa thinks she has nothing to lose by investigating whatever secrets he hid behind the thin blue line.

Annalisa quickly zeroes in on someone who had good reason to want Hammond dead: a wealthy, fast-talking car salesman who’d gotten away with murder once and wasn’t about to let Hammond take a second shot. Moe Bocks remains the number one suspect in his girlfriend’s brutal unsolved death, and now he’s got a new woman in his sights—Annalisa’s best friend.

Annalisa is desperate to protect her friend and force Bocks to pay, either for Hammond’s death or his earlier crime. But when no one else believes the connection, she takes increasingly risky chances to reveal the truth. Because both Hammond and Bocks had secrets to die for, and if she doesn’t untangle them soon, Annalisa will be next.

 

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When Annalisa focuses on finding the perpetrators in some old and new murders, her ex-husband and current partner is about to transfer. So will he be Long Gone before they are able to find the answers?

As we follow the clues and find no proof to substantiate what they believe, we begin to realize that there is much more to the cases than we had believed. Convoluted and twisted events take us in many directions, and Annalisa’s badge and her life are at risk. Finally, however, the answers come from unexpected sources. A 4.5 star review.

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REVIEW: THE FAMILY REMAINS, BY LISA JEWELL


Early one morning on the shore of the Thames, DCI Samuel Owusu is called to the scene of a gruesome discovery. When Owusu sends the evidence for examination, he learns the bones are connected to a cold case that left three people dead on the kitchen floor in a Chelsea mansion thirty years ago.

Rachel Rimmer has also received a shock—news that her husband, Michael, has been found dead in the cellar of his house in France. All signs point to an intruder, and the French police need her to come urgently to answer questions about Michael and his past that she very much doesn’t want to answer.

After fleeing London thirty years ago in the wake of a horrific tragedy, Lucy Lamb is finally coming home. While she settles in with her children and is just about to purchase their first-ever house, her brother takes off to find the boy from their shared past whose memory haunts their present.

As they all race to discover answers to these convoluted mysteries, they will come to find that they’re connected in ways they could have never imagined.

In this masterful standalone sequel to her haunting New York Times bestseller, The Family Upstairs, Lisa Jewell proves she is writing at the height of her powers with another jaw-dropping, intricate, and affecting novel about the lengths we will go to protect the ones we love and uncover the truth.

 

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As we begin the journey with The Family Remains, we are introduced to characters that are connected to events from the past, and in some ways, their lives have intersected. At first, we meet Henry Lamb whose past centered around an old house where terrible things happened. We slowly meet other characters connected to him, most of whom are apparently hiding things. And Henry is diligently searching for someone from his distant past, who keeps eluding him.

The story also begins with the discovery of a body in the Thames, which seems to be tied to that same old house.

How will all of these characters finally come together, and what do their secrets tell us? How did their lives go wrong, and how did they all manage to keep their pasts at bay? The stories unfold in different timelines, and in many ways, they were convoluted, but as we learn more about how the characters are connected, we are intrigued. A sometimes confusing story, this one earned 4 stars.

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REVIEW: BOOK LOVERS, BY EMILY HENRY

One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming…

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.
 
 
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The banter between the characters in Book Lovers was enough to capture my interest from the beginning. Picturing the setting also kept me intrigued, as I have often read about southern states, but never actually visited.

I enjoyed the sister connection, as well as Nora’s interactions with Charlie as they work on a project together.

I laughed, smiled, and kept reading throughout.

As we zoom in on the relationship as it develops between Charlie and Nora, while also following the ongoing connection between Nora and Libby, we anticipate that there will be many choices to make along the way. Things we cannot realize until it all concludes…unless we read the last page first. A 4.5 star read.
 
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REVIEW: THE LAST TO VANISH, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

Ten years ago, Abigail Lovett fell into a job she loves, managing The Passage Inn, a cozy, upscale resort nestled in the North Carolina mountain town of Cutter’s Pass. Cutter’s Pass is best known for its outdoor offerings—rafting and hiking, with access to the Appalachian trail by way of a gorgeous waterfall—and its mysterious history. As the book begins, the string of unsolved disappearances that has haunted the town is once again thrust into the spotlight when journalist Landon West, who was staying at the inn to investigate the story of the vanishing trail, then disappears himself.

 

Abby has sometimes felt like an outsider within the community, but she’s come to view Cutter’s Pass as her home. When Landon’s brother Trey shows up looking for answers, Abby can’t help but feel the town closing ranks. And she’s still on the outside. When she finds incriminating evidence that may bring them closer to the truth, Abby soon discovers how little she knows about her coworkers, neighbors, and even those closest to her.

 
 
 
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 I loved following Abby’s journey to discover what was behind the mysterious disappearances in The Last to Vanish. She had the sense that there were answers, but that certain townspeople and individuals were keeping deep secrets. What were the connections between the residents and the disappearances?

Just when I thought I might know the answers, especially after Abby discovers a secret locker, I was surprised by what she did uncover.

A story that kept me turning pages, this one earned five stars.

 
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REVIEW: STAY AWAKE, BY MEGAN GOLDIN

Liv Reese wakes up in the back of a taxi with no idea where she is or how she got there. When she’s dropped off at the door of her brownstone, a stranger answers—a stranger who claims to live in her apartment. She reaches for her phone to call for help, only to discover it’s missing. In its place is a bloodstained knife. Her hands are covered in scribbled messages, like graffiti on her skin: STAY AWAKE.

Two years ago, Liv was thriving as a successful writer for a trendy magazine. Now, she’s lost and disoriented in a New York City that looks nothing like what she remembers. Catching a glimpse of the local news, she’s horrified to see reports of a crime scene where the victim’s blood has been used to scrawl a message across a window, similar to the message that’s inked on her hands. What did she do last night? And why does she remember nothing from the past two years? Liv finds herself on the run for a crime she doesn’t remember committing. But there’s someone who does know exactly what she did, and they’ll do anything to make her forget—permanently.

A complex thriller that unfolds at a breakneck speed, Stay Awake will keep you up all night.

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As we follow the journey of a traumatized woman in Stay Awake, we are definitely intrigued…and unable to stop reading.

Liv had a great life until someone tried to murder her. After awakening from a coma, she is plagued by amnesia: every time she awakens from sleep, her short term memory is erased.

The story flips back and forth in time, from two years ago with events leading up to Liv’s trauma, to recent days and weeks as she tries to piece things together.

The tale also alternated between Liv’s experiences and the detectives pursuing the case of a recent murder that eventually connects to some of what has happened to Liv.

I couldn’t wait to see what would happen.  5 stars.

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

REVIEW: THE IT GIRL, BY RUTH WARE

April Clarke-Cliveden was the first person Hannah Jones met at Oxford.

Vivacious, bright, occasionally vicious, and the ultimate It girl, she quickly pulled Hannah into her dazzling orbit. Together, they developed a group of devoted and inseparable friends—Will, Hugh, Ryan, and Emily—during their first term. By the end of the year, April was dead.

Now, a decade later, Hannah and Will are expecting their first child, and the man convicted of killing April, former Oxford porter John Neville, has died in prison. Relieved to have finally put the past behind her, Hannah’s world is rocked when a young journalist comes knocking and presents new evidence that Neville may have been innocent. As Hannah reconnects with old friends and delves deeper into the mystery of April’s death, she realizes that the friends she thought she knew all have something to hide…including a murder.

 

 

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As we follow this mysterious story of The It Girl, we are led on a journey into the past and the present, by way of narratives labeled Before and After. Sometimes the pursuit takes us to interesting places, but we also begin to find it a little slow going, as so much continues to be hidden behind more secrets and lies.

Who can Hannah trust, as she tries to find answers? As I lost myself in the questions, I also found the victim, April, to be a horrible person so much of the time. Beneath her charm, beauty, and hidden beneath the protections of her money and things, was a cruel streak that came out on a regular basis. Not that we want to blame the victim, but so much of what happened to her had to result partially from her own behavior.

Nevertheless, there were many who wanted the truth. So Hannah pursues it. In the end, the twists and turns kept us going until finally we do get the stunning answers. I thought I had it figured out, but at the last minute, there was a definite turn in an unexpected direction. I am giving this one 4.5 stars, mainly because it was tedious at times. I had to keep going, though. I wanted to know!

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