REVIEW: WHAT’S BECOME OF HER, BY DEB CALETTI

 

“Guilty people keep secrets.”

Isabelle Austen returns to her hometown on a small, isolated Pacific Northwest island to take over the family tourism business after the death of her mother, a disapproving parent and a hard woman to love. Feeling lost, Isabelle is also struggling with a recent divorce and wondering if she’ll ever come into her own. Then her life takes a surprising turn: The mysterious Henry North arrives on Parrish Island, steps off a seaplane, and changes Isabelle’s world forever.

From the beginning, their relationship is heady and intense—then Isabelle learns of Henry’s disturbing past, involving the death of a fiancée and the disappearance of a wife. Suddenly Isabelle is caught between love and suspicion, paranoia and passion, as she searches for the truth she may not want to find—and is swept into a dangerous game she may not survive.


MY THOUGHTS:
What’s Become of Her is alternately narrated by Isabelle and a stranger named Professor Weary, who has no personal interaction with her, but from afar, seems to be keeping an eye on her.Henry’s past, full of unanswered questions and mysteries, all point to the possibility of something dark and dangerous about him, and his secrets and lies raised a huge red flag that had me wanting to shout at Isabelle: Run!

But Henry was one of those men who can be so charming, and he did kind and loving things for her. Then something aroused his rage, usually as the result of his bruised ego, at which point, his “poor me” attitude reared its head, even as he turned frightening.

Why did Isabelle put up with him? Everyone who knew her kept warning her off, but she focused instead on the strange packages she kept receiving from someone, and even though each object hinted of bad acts by Henry, she kept hanging in there.

Even though I was turned off by Henry, and hoped Isabelle would make better choices, I wondered if I could be wrong about him. Could others, like Weary, be persecuting him, and would we discover that the real bad guys were out there, watching and waiting?

The beautiful setting on an island near Seattle kept me engaged, even though parts of the story were slow and even boring (Weary’s narratives). But I kept turning the pages, wondering what I would ultimately learn and what Isabelle would do about her precarious situation. What she did came as a complete surprise, and I wanted to celebrate. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE KEPT WOMAN, BY KARIN SLAUGHTER

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A murder at a construction site in Atlanta turns into so much more when the victim is revealed to be an ex-cop. And not a good cop. Dale Harding is even more dark and troubled than anyone knows at the beginning of our story, but before the final denouement, his nefarious connections will be revealed.

Will Trent is one of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s agents called to the scene, and his lover, Sara Linton, is the medical examiner.

The crime scene soon reveals that the massive amount of blood found does not belong to Harding, and the search is on for the other victim.

As we meet each of the detectives, we soon learn that there is something off about one of them. The connections between Harding and others from Will’s past add layers to the story, and before long, we are offered a glimpse into his childhood abuse. We are introduced to some of the others caught up in the foster care system with him, one of whom was his wife Angie Polaski. A wife with whom he has not lived in a long while, but who somehow manages to insert herself into his life whenever she chooses, stalking him and Sara, and leaving notes in strange places. The somewhat symbiotic relationship between them causes all kinds of trouble for Will…and for Sara.

Early on, we are also introduced to a group of sports agents, headed by Kip Kilpatrick, whose goal is to protect their clients at all costs, even when they have committed crimes. What, if anything, does Harding’s murder have to do with Kilpatrick and his group? How do the dark pasts of Harding, Will, Angie, and others connect to the events in the present?

A somewhat convoluted story with alternating narrators that gradually reveal all kinds of connections, The Kept Woman was thoroughly engaging, keeping me glued to the pages throughout. At one point, we also got to see Angie’s perspective, which lent some insight into her actions. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, BY ELIZABETH STROUT

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From the very beginning of My Name Is Lucy Barton, the reader can sense the emotional neediness of Lucy, our first person narrator. She tells her story in fits and starts, which sweeps back and forth through time.

The impetus for her narrative was Lucy’s hospitalization some time in the 1980s, when an appendectomy resulted in some complications. Unexpectedly, her mother has flown to be by her side, after never having done such a thing in the past. She has come all the way from the farming town of Amgash, Illinois. One could wonder what prompted the visit, but nothing about the mother’s motives are revealed. Theirs is not a loving relationship and never has been. Could the mother have been reaching out, but felt unable to express her need to connect?

The two converse in a rather strange fashion, with Lucy’s mother relaying bits and pieces of information about the townsfolk, as if trying to relate to Lucy in a meaningful way. But everything said between them seems superficial, and whenever Lucy tries to probe for more information, her mother shuts down.

We learn from Lucy’s reflections about growing up as an outsider, looked down upon by other kids in school. Being laughed at for her clothes and where they lived, which was a garage for a while, and then later, a broken down house.

Even now, years later, Lucy’s feeling of being different or less than comes through, although she had a somewhat normal life at the time of her mother’s visit, with a husband and two daughters. She had even attended college on a scholarship…and has a fledgling writing career. A career that takes off later in our story.

The meandering style of the narrative has an autobiographical nature to it, with Lucy trying to make sense of her life, her feelings, and her choices. While I found Lucy’s thoughts and feelings interesting and reflective of a life raised in poverty with the hint of some abuse and neglect, nothing is actually stated clearly. Much is left unsaid. Almost as if the emotional impoverishment of the characters stifled the expression of their experiences. The story left me unfulfilled, in terms of Lucy’s issues, as if more information was just waiting to be brought forth, but somehow was lost in translation. Therefore, 4 stars.

REVIEW: THE BONES OF YOU, BY DEBBIE HOWELLS

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In a small English village, a young girl has gone missing. Rosie Anderson’s eighteen years flash before her eyes, as she looks down upon the life she lost; she describes this “movie of her life” as she sees it, in freeze frame images, starting in her childhood. Her voice is the first one we hear, and we will see her alternately reveal much as the story continues.

Our story then picks up with our narrator, Kate McKay, a friend of the Anderson family. Neal and Jo are Rosie’s parents, and Kate has just learned from Jo that Rosie has gone missing. Kate’s daughter Grace is distraught at the news of Rosie’s disappearance, and in the early days of August, there is still hope that she will be found. Or that they will all discover that Rosie has just gone off with a friend and no harm has come to her. After all, Rosie is not known for rebellious streaks.

Neal Anderson is a renowned journalist, charming, and many are in awe of him. His wife Jo is gorgeous and their home is perfect. Everything seems perfect. As we know in life, nothing is perfect.

And as “The Bones of You” unfolds, we learn that nothing is as it seems, and darkness lies beneath the surface. Abuse, dangerous passions, and perhaps even murderous impulses. Who can know what such people are capable of…what secrets might hide beneath the polished veneer? And why is Delphine, the youngest daughter, seemingly ignored? What secrets might she be hiding?

We see the layers of this dark, psychological suspense unpeeling slowly, and meet others in the village, like Rachael, a friend of Kate’s, and Angus, Kate’s husband. Laura is a journalist friend of Kate’s who appears after Rosie’s body is found and the determination has been made that she was murdered.

Kate was close to Rosie, who enjoyed coming over to spend time with the horses. Kate is an earthy character, a gardener, while Jo is distant, seemingly superficial, and unpredictable in her moods. She is often aloof, and then needy. Who can tell what is really going on in her perfect world, now destroyed by her daughter’s death?

There is a slow build of suspense and gradual revelations, both from Rosie’s perspective, and then through bits and pieces from others. What happened to Rosie? Could her boyfriend Alex, whom the parents disapproved of, be responsible? Or could her murderer be someone even closer?

A chilling story that kept me rapidly turning pages, figuring out some of it fairly early, but then stunned by what is finally revealed. And we see how a moral compass was lost, a brain short-circuited, and someone slipped into madness. How what we see in others often hides the truth and we may never know what that is. Until someone finds the courage to step forward. 4.5 stars.

**This e-Arc was received from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THOSE GIRLS, BY CHEVY STEVENS

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The three sisters were bound together by the cruelty of the life they lived, with an alcoholic father who turned violent and often went missing, and without their mother who had died years before.  They were often lonely on the remote farm in Western Canada, but they found comfort in each other.

 
One night, their father turned on them while drunk and things got out of hand.  They ran, knowing that they would face even more trouble if they stayed.

 
On the way to Vancouver, their destination, their truck broke down outside a small town called Cash Creek, and when two young men offered help, they were reluctant.  But went along, to their great remorse afterwards.  What happened to them in those five days would inform the rest of their lives.

 
They escaped, they took on new identities with the help of a kind man who ran the pub, and made new lives in Vancouver.  But eighteen years later, everything goes wrong, and they are face-to-face with their past again.

 
Dani, Courtney, and Jess Campbell—who became Dallas, Crystal, and Jamie Caldwell—were characters that grabbed hold of my heart and made me want to root for them.  Their vulnerability, mixed with the strength of their fierce protectiveness of one another, kept me glued to the pages, wondering how they would be forced to confront their past and how they would come out the other end…or if they would.

 
Jamie’s daughter Skylar is an interesting addition to the cast of original characters, and her story is equally compelling.  Those Girls was narrated by each in turn, with the first part in Jess/Jamie’s voice, followed by Skylar’s voice.  At the end, we finally hear Dani/Dallas’s voice, and feel, along with her, the anger, frustration, and helplessness…and then the peace that comes with some kind of resolution.

REVIEW: HUSH LITTLE BABY, BY SUZANNE REDFEARN

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They looked like the perfect family. Gordon, a police officer, Jillian, an architect, with two beautiful children, Drew, 8, and Addie, 4: they all live in a gorgeous home in the upscale community of Laguna Beach. But behind closed doors, havoc reigns. For nine years, Jillian has suffered abuse, fear, and the threat of escalating violence at the hands of her husband Gordon.

But nobody would believe her even if she did tell. Which is why Jillian does the unthinkable one day. She grabs the kids and runs.

In the suspenseful page-turning Hush Little Baby, the reader is reeled into the kind of existence that only an abuse victim lives with everyday, and as the story unfolds, we come to realize that there will be only one kind of conclusion: one of the two, either Gordon or Jillian, will end up dead.

Themes of domestic violence and the kind of family dysfunction that allows it to flourish are at the core of this story that will appeal to anyone who has ever lived it, as well as those who have worked to help change things for victims.

There were times that I shook my head at the poor choices made by the characters, even Jillian, who kept staying long after she should have. But all of these behaviors are completely understandable when one considers the options available. 4.5 stars.