REVIEW: JUST BETWEEN US, BY REBECCA DRAKE

Alison, Julie, Sarah, Heather. Four friends living the suburban ideal. Their jobs are steady, their kids are healthy. They’re as beautiful as their houses. But each of them has a dirty little secret, and hidden behind the veneer of their perfect lives is a crime and a mystery that will consume them all.

Everything starts to unravel when Alison spots a nasty bruise on Heather’s wrist. She shares her suspicions with Julie and Sarah, compelling all three to investigate what looks like an increasingly violent marriage. As mysterious injuries and erratic behavior mount, Heather can no longer deny the abuse, but she refuses to leave her husband. Desperate to save her, Alison and the others dread the phone call telling them that she’s been killed. But when that call finally comes, it’s not Heather who’s dead. In a moment they’ll come to regret, the women must decide what lengths they’ll go to in order to help a friend.

 

In Just Between Us, the friendship between four suburban women deepens when they believe one of them is being abused.

They step up and band together to encourage her to leave her husband and to get help. She refuses. Then one night, tragedy comes to them all as they are caught up in keeping a dreadful secret that will lead to so much more danger than any of them could have imagined.

At what cost will they keep protecting their friend? Will they discover that there is so much more to her story, and will they all finally pay the price?

So many twists along the way kept me reading and hoping for a good outcome. The story has multiple narrators, and sometimes I lost track of whose voice I was reading, but I could not put the book down. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE SWAP, BY ROBYN HARDING

 

Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging…that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.


What begins as a tale of obsession and jealousy, The Swap soon becomes so much more. Is it about love gone wrong, or is it about the narcissistic actions of a woman whose own needs, desires, and destructive manipulations control the lives of those around her?

The characters were all flawed and unlikable in many ways. Jamie and Brian had some redeeming qualities, so in the end, I found myself rooting for them.

Low seemed tragically affected by her own family’s issues and seeking love in all the wrong places.

An engaging, but dark story that earned 4.5 stars from me.

***

BIG SUMMER, BY JENNIFER WEINER

Six years after the fight that ended their friendship, Daphne Berg is shocked when Drue Cavanaugh walks back into her life, looking as lovely and successful as ever, with a massive favor to ask. Daphne hasn’t spoken one word to Drue in all this time—she doesn’t even hate-follow her ex-best friend on social media—so when Drue asks if she will be her maid-of-honor at the society wedding of the summer, Daphne is rightfully speechless.

Drue was always the one who had everything—except the ability to hold onto friends. Meanwhile, Daphne’s no longer the same self-effacing sidekick she was back in high school. She’s built a life that she loves, including a growing career as a plus-size Instagram influencer. Letting glamorous, seductive Drue back into her life is risky, but it comes with an invitation to spend a weekend in a waterfront Cape Cod mansion. When Drue begs and pleads and dangles the prospect of cute single guys, Daphne finds herself powerless as ever to resist her friend’s siren song.

 

Big Summer opens with a prologue featuring a single mom and her young son and concludes with a cliff hanger. We see nothing more about these characters until the very end, after the culmination of some tragic events that turn the story about struggling characters searching for love into something more. It becomes a mystery.

In the first part of the book, we come to know Daphne in the present and through flashbacks of the past. Her friendship with Drue is tumultuous, with the kind of stormy episodes that, in my opinion, should have forever turned Daphne away from this so-called friend.

But when Drue begs Daphne to be in her wedding on the Cape and offers the opportunity for her to feature it on her online accounts, drawing traffic to her influencer business, Daphne cannot resist.

As the weekend winds down, Daphne is beginning to sense that more is afoot with Drue and her fiancé and with the hugely expensive wedding…and when the truth finally starts to unfold, the mystery begins.

I loved the descriptions of Daphne’s business, her thoughts and feelings about events, and how her plus-size figure challenges her constantly. Her business has boosted her self-esteem, but can she ever really dismiss how her supposed friend Drue has made her feel “less than” over the years? I couldn’t stop reading this book that carried us through issues of friendship, betrayal, loss, and finally, consequences. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: FRAGMENTS OF THE LOST, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

 

Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?


My Thoughts: From the beginning of Fragments of the Lost, I was drawn in by Jessa’s task to search through and box up Caleb’s belongings…after his death. And at his mother’s request.

But his mother, Eve, was someone untrustworthy with her own agenda, in my opinion. And the little girl, Mia, Caleb’s half-sister, had been fed stories about Jessa by her mother, obviously. But why?

Caleb’s secrets and his mysterious “death” seemed to hide a whole other life that might have been waiting for him. A life lost to him because of the choices of others.

As Jessa discovered each item in his room, her thoughts carried her away to moments in their relationship, and she was caught up in nostalgia. But she also realized that pieces of Caleb’s life had been hidden from her. What will she do to find her answers? Will the mysterious room behind his closet offer up a path to discovery?

The book was slow for about 2/3 of the way through. As fascinating as it was to see what each “fragment” yielded, I wanted the story to move along, taking us to whatever denouement awaited us. And I hoped that Jessa would dismiss the creepy Eve and Mia who always seemed to appear just when Jessa was on the path to a new memory. What further secrets will Jessa find as she packs up boxes and dumps the trash? Will a recent find lead to more answers? Near the end, the pieces of the puzzle started to come together, and as they did, I very happily could not stop reading as the intensity and danger grew. Despite the uneven pacing, the story did satisfy me eventually, and I liked how everything was finally resolved. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE MARRIAGE LIE, BY KIMBERLY BELLE

 

 

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Iris and Will have been married for seven years, and life is as close to perfect as it can be. But on the morning Will flies out for a business trip to Florida, Iris’s happy world comes to an abrupt halt: another plane headed for Seattle has crashed into a field, killing everyone on board and, according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers. 

Grief stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it all must be a huge misunderstanding. Why did Will lie about where he was going? And what else has he lied about? As Iris sets off on a desperate quest to uncover what her husband was keeping from her, the answers she finds shock her to her very core.

My Thoughts: I was immediately caught up in the relationship between Iris and Will: the special moments between them, the stories of how they met and fell in love, and their plans for the future. I wanted that happily-ever-after for them.

Happy moments seem to always signal that events are about to go awry in a big way, so with the news of the plane crash, and how Will had lied about where he was going, I knew I would be waiting with bated breath, wondering what would be unveiled next.

There were characters to be suspicious about, just because of how “too good to be true” they seemed, like Will’s so-called best gym buddy, Corban Hayes. Smooth, handsome, and helpful. What’s not to like? Well, just the fact that he seems too perfect. Just like Will did before the lies started to unfold.

I couldn’t stop turning the pages, wondering what would happen next. Could we trust anybody? Well, Iris’s twin brother Dave seemed to be true blue, and it was great to read the banter between them, the “twin talk” that felt real.

Iris’s parents were wonderful and supportive. Then there was Evan, an attorney, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash. He would have to be one of the good guys. Right?

The trouble with finding out about lies and secrets…it is hard to trust anybody. Would Iris find the answers she needed? Would the trail of mysterious texts she is receiving lead to answers? What does some missing money from the company where Will worked mean about him and about his associates?

Until the very end of The Marriage Lie, I kept going back and forth in my mind about where the road would lead us, but the journey turned out to be even better than I had imagined. A final tidbit took me to an interesting place. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

REVIEW: WATCHING EDIE, BY CAMILLA WAY

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What is the cost of a lopsided, twisted friendship? When Edie and Heather met during their school days, in a village near London called Fremton, their friendship seemed to come out of one girl’s need for the other. Even early on, it could be said that one of them needed the other more. One of them would do anything for the friendship. In retrospect, we could also conclude that they each needed the other, but in different proportions and for different reasons.

Divided into segments of Before and After, our narrators’ voices walk us through the history of the two, from the early moments to the tragedy that would change everything.

Edie’s voice reveals the “after” part, as she struggles to make up for past mistakes, and to provide a home in London for her new baby. But early days of motherhood are overwhelming, and a visitor from the past steps in to help.

Meanwhile, we slowly come to see the “before” segments of the lives of these two women through Heather’s eyes. She was the one that others overlooked, the one some even made fun of…but when Edie shined her glance upon her, Heather felt the glow of true friendship.

Could these two unlikely friends help each other? Could they move beyond the strange nature of one’s dependency on the other? Why does Edie feel that Heather is stalking her? How did what happened one fateful night in the past change everything about both their lives in the present?

Throughout Watching Edie, I felt an eerie, even creepy vibe as more of the story unfolded, and until the final reveal, I had an inkling about what might have gone down, but was stunned by what had actually happened. How it all came out to the reader was in a moment of intensity that could have ended very badly.

Each character had an “unreliable narrator” feel to her presentation, and I had a tendency to grant more credence to Edie’s perspective…and then felt badly when I realized how wrong I was. A gripping story that kept me glued to the pages, this book earned 5 stars.

cropped again 5***

REVIEW: THE TRUTH-TELLER’S LIE, BY SOPHIE HANNAH

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The opening lines of The Truth-Teller’s Lie are in the form of a letter to a survivor’s website, signed NJ.

We soon learn that the writer is Naomi Jenkins, and some time before, she was raped in a particularly cruel way. And she never reported it.

But now her life is all about a man named Robert Haworth, whom she met a while after the rape, and whom she didn’t tell about her experience. But he meets her every Thursday in a motel where they went the first time they were together. He is obsessive, loves his routines, and talks about leaving his wife.

But then one Thursday he doesn’t show up, and because of his habits, Naomi is convinced that something has happened to him. When she reports his “missing” status to the police, she can tell they won’t make the search for him a priority. So she tells a lie. One that will guarantee action on their part.

Our favorite detectives from the previous novel, Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse, are on the case, especially now due to the lie. And the truth of what happened to Robert, and many more hidden truths, will cause everything to unravel.

I loved the multiple narrators, beginning with Naomi, in her first person voice, and with her quirky tendency to address Robert as “you,” when voicing her thoughts. In the third person perspective, we learn what several of the other characters are thinking and feeling, from Charlie, Simon, Olivia (Charlie’s sister), to Juliet, Robert’s wife.

The complexity of the plot kept me fully engaged, and like most books by this author, there are plenty of creepy aspects, as well as the usual twists and turns that take us to interesting places.

I also enjoyed learning more about sundials, which Naomi creates. This book was also sold under the title “Hurting Distance,” which has significance for some of the characters. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped

***

REVIEW: DOMESTIC SECRETS, BY ROSALIND NOONAN

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Can close friendship win out over the secrets, lies, and betrayals of those who would threaten them?

Rachel Whalen and Ariel Alexander, both living in a suburb of Portland, Oregon, have enjoyed the bonds of friendship for years. They have had each other’s backs…and been there for their children as well. Or so they have thought.

Rachel’s second husband, Jackson, died a few years before, so she has been struggling. But she has managed to be there for her two sons, Kyle James and Jared, and also runs her styling salon.

Ariel thrives giving voice lessons, but secretly dreams about a return to Hollywood…and her four children get short shrift, according to the perspective of some. Her oldest, Cassie, away at college, is her biggest critic and the voice of reason. Younger children Remy, Trevor, & Maisy appear to be okay…but all will change when Ariel’s inability to stop from seducing every man in sight, including some inappropriate ones, takes her to a dark place. Is she still grieving the loss of her husband Oliver, or is something more going on? What predatory acts will lead to inexplicable violence, and will anyone survive the emotional storm?

Domestic Secrets is the kind of tale that keeps the reader wondering what will come along next, and how the characters will figure out a way through it all. I could not stop reading, and despite the warning signs, I was stunned by how it all played out. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE RUMOR, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

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Summer in Nantucket brings out the best and the worst in the residents.

Grace and Eddie Pancik are an acknowledged “power couple.” He, with his real estate/construction business and Grace with her gardening business, their names are on everyone’s lips that particular summer.

Madeline Llewelyn is Grace’s best friend. They share confidences and keep each other’s secrets. Until they don’t.

Trevor, Madeline’s husband is a pilot and away a lot. He doesn’t figure into the story very much. But he is supportive of Madeline’s writing and her need for a “room of her own,” so when she rents an apartment for her writing space, he is completely behind it. She is determined to write something worthy of the generous advance she has received after the success of her dystopian novel, Islandia. So will she cross a line to achieve her goal?

Then when Eddie stops by Madeline’s apartment to ask why she used another agent to rent the space, busybody eyes notice him there, and the first “rumor” springs to life. Soon many are chatting about the supposed affair between them.

Meanwhile, however, Grace and Benton Coe, the landscape architect helping her redesign her garden, seem to be spending an awful lot of time together, aside from their gardening.

What is going on? Can the rumor mill spin its wheels fast enough?

Meanwhile, the teenagers are stirring up their own brand of trouble. Eddie and Grace’s twins, Allegra and Hope, are nothing alike. Allegra is narcissistic, spoiled, and cheating on her boyfriend Brick, Trevor and Madeline’s son. Hope, quiet and studious, has her eye on Brick for herself, but she won’t betray her sister.

The Rumor: A Novel is an intriguing story with twists and turns that kept me guessing, even as I suspected where much of it would go before the end. But there were a few surprises, and I liked the ending. A 4 star read for me.

REVIEW: WIFE-IN-LAW, BY HAYWOOD SMITH

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In suburban Atlanta, two completely opposite young women meet as neighbors, and despite the odds, become best friends. It was the 1970s when they first met, so imagine Betsy Callison’s surprise to discover that beneath the surface, she and the young “hippie” Kat Ellis would have something in common. They would bond and sustain that bond for many years.

Betsy and Greg are young Republicans, diametrically opposed politically to Kat and her partner Zach. But over time, the differences mattered less than what connected them. Or so it would seem.

But time and circumstance would change everything, and Betsy would find herself in a very strange situation. Greg has left her for his secretary, and then, a few months later, when Kat is widowed after Zach’s death, Greg starts spending a lot of time with her. When the two of them announce they are getting married, everything seems suddenly surreal.

Would what Betsy knows about Greg be something she could share with Kat, who is suddenly going to marry her ex-husband? And after the wedding, when she realizes that Greg has poisoned her friend against her, will she be able to warn her when old patterns begin to repeat themselves?

Wife-in-Law started out much better than it ended, in my opinion. I liked the first person narrative of Betsy in the present day, and then as she started sharing bits and pieces of the past, I felt I was there with them. The era of the 70s felt real and appropriate for the times; but suddenly, the narrative sped ahead and it seemed as though we were being “told” about what happened, when being shown worked so much better for me.

Betsy’s actions later in the book seemed out-of-character. She was too forgiving and too good…and in the end, her behavior ended up sugar-coated and sweet, which was not where I thought the story would go. I normally love this author’s books, but except for the beginning, this one was disappointing. 3.5 stars.