REVIEW: THE PAYING GUESTS, BY SARAH WATERS

81nguZwnLpL._SL1500_

It is 1922, and times are tough for the residents of this formerly well-off village of Camberwell, in England. A Champion Hill estate was once a place to celebrate, with hired help taken for granted.

But now, Frances Wray and her aging mother Emily are struggling, and despite the embarrassment, they decide to take in boarders.

I could feel the squeamishness of Frances as she and her mother greet Len and Lilian Barber, from the “clerk” class, and in the subsequent days, I could relate to her irritation with their behaviors (Len is loud, with a tendency toward suggestive innuendo), and Lilian seems spoiled (taking long baths in the middle of the day).

Slowly The Paying Guests unfolds, and we gradually come to see a slight shift. When did it happen? When was Frances first drawn to Lilian? And how did she succumb to long-forgotten passions?

Secrets, lies, and horrifying danger cloud the pages and reveal much. Everything speeds up quickly after something terrible happens, and we are left wondering if the dangerous secrets that Frances and Lilian share will cause their lives to unravel. Did Lilian have a hidden motive all along? Was Frances her prey? Or is there more to the story?

The ending brought about few surprises, and left things up in the air for some of the characters. I loved how the writer captured my interest and kept me turning those pages. Recommended for all who enjoy stories about secrets, lies, and betrayal. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE INNOCENT SLEEP, BY KAREN PERRY

81VVkkk8NPL._SL1500_

On a night in Tangier, Harry prepares a birthday dinner for his wife Robin, while nearby, three-year-old Dillon resists the cup of warm milk his father has made for him.

Dillon regularly resists sleep, and occasionally Harry has added a small dose of a sleeping pill to the boy’s milk. That night, the boy does sleep, and is still sleeping soundly when Harry recalls that he has left Robin’s gift at the shop just five minutes away. Hesitating, he then plunges into the night, alone, leaving the boy behind….

That risk, that erroneous choice…sets in motion a disastrous series of events, beginning with an earthquake, a crumbled building, and the presumption of Dillon’s death.

Years later, in Dublin again, the couple struggles. Harry is remote, devoted to his art. Robin is bogged down with her own secrets…and then on a street nearby, a protest march slows down Harry’s progress after running errands, and he sees him. He is sure of it! There is Dillon, walking away with a woman wearing a blue scarf.

And the journey begins again, after years of struggling, of disbelief. Harry has never believed that Dillon died, since no body was found.

Robin has just discovered she is pregnant again, so in the aftermath of that news, Harry does not mention the sighting. Instead, he follows clues, finds footage of the street, and persists in seeking answers.

What transpired over the next few months kept this reader rapidly turning pages, asking what could have happened? Is it possible that, as others believe, Harry is delusional? Has his grief taken over and claimed him? Or has he made a discovery that could resolve his grief at last? Why is Robin pondering moments from the past, asking herself questions about something she did, a betrayal she committed…and then, as everything comes together in one final confrontation, we are stunned. Holding our breath. Who will be left standing? Will there be peace at last?

A captivating story, The Innocent Sleep: A Novel is not for those who like figuring out the answers before the culmination. Even as I could put together some of the pieces early on, they did not coalesce seamlessly. Narrated in the alternating voices of Harry and Robin, we gradually come to know each of them, through flashbacks and moments in the present. But then, at the end, another surprising voice joins them.

The final chapter felt like it did not fit with the rest of the story. In the aftermath of disaster, there is usually emotion. Instead, the story leaps ahead, back to Tangier, and nothing seems to be resolved. Perhaps this is like life, but, in fact, I just felt cheated. Four stars.

REVIEW: LEAVING HAVEN, BY KATHLEEN MCCLEARY

81o5WfPqrzL._SL1500_

Georgia and Alice have been best friends for so many years that their lives seem irreversibly entwined.

They are more like sisters, and their families are bound together as well. Daughters Liza and Wren have been in each others’ lives since birth.

So when Georgia’s attempts to have another baby meet with severe challenges, like a series of miscarriages and failed IVF efforts, it seems only natural that Alice would offer to donate one of her eggs.

Was that the beginning of the end for them? Or would it be the unexpected rivalries between Liza and Wren, and their parents’ efforts to intervene in rivalries gone wrong that suddenly changed the dynamic between them all?

How does one come back from betrayal and the ultimate tearing of the fabric that has defined “family” for so long?

It would be easy to empathize with Georgia and hate Alice, but because the author alternates the storytelling between these two characters, we learn about each of their challenges in life and feel for them both. Georgia’s mother’s death at an early age left her to mother her two younger sisters. When Alice’s single mother left her alone too much, forcing her to grow up way too soon…those events left their indelible imprint on her, too, changing her into the kind of person she became.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks and fast forwards, starting with the day Georgia gives birth to Haven. The history of the two women and their friendship, as well as their family histories, is revealed slowly. I liked the style, which kept me rapidly turning pages to find out more.

Leaving Haven: A Novel is a story about friendship, about family, and how even the closest ties that bind people can be severed. But they can also be woven together again in new ways. Five stars.

MIX A SPLASH OF BETRAYAL WITH A FEW DROPS OF OUTRAGE….– A REVIEW

81NSV-XXUhL

When I first read the blurb for Ladies’ Night, I was especially drawn to the fact that the main character, Grace, was a “lifestyle blogger.” Yes, the author had me at “blogger.”

Also as a fan of all things cozy and beautiful, I was hooked immediately by this aspect of the story. But what kept me turning those pages were the events that changed Grace’s life in innumerable ways, and how, despite what seemed like her powerlessness, she rose above it. And then she began to take control. And reinvent herself.

Wouldn’t you, if your husband betrayed you, locked you out of your home and your blog, along with your bank accounts? The outrage I felt on her behalf, especially since he was the one who betrayed her…well, you can imagine the emotions engendered. But emotions like these can turn lives around in new directions.

And this is what makes this author’s work so readable. She grabs us emotionally and takes us along for the ride with the characters.

What will Grace do to jumpstart her new life? How will she manage to turn the most infuriating and even humiliating experiences into True Gold…or True Grace, if you will? And when she is presented with obstacles over and over, will she give up? Or will she find a way to turn everything around?

I could not put this book down. I loved the characters, the settings in beautiful Florida, and how the story kept me rooting for Grace and her new friends, Wyatt and Camryn; and I started to feel empathy and compassion for some of the unlikeable ones, too. This delightful tale follows a somewhat predictable path, in that we know that the characters will find a way to win out in the end. The fun is figuring out how they will do that. 4.5 stars.

THE POLITICS OF INHERITANCE: TREACHERY, BETRAYAL, & UNCERTAINTY — A REVIEW

 

As head of the vast empire of Deravenels, Edward is in a very powerful position. But the politics of inheritance involves a lot of treachery. And sometimes the treachery comes from within the family.

Constantly watching his back, Edward is also torn between his wife Elizabeth and his mistress Jane. In their world, mistresses are quite common. The fact that Edward only has one mistress is something he is quite proud of.

An heir is always uppermost in his mind as the outside forces of influenza, tragic accidents, and uncertainties threaten to leave him without one. Fortunately, in the early twentieth century, Edward has changed the rules of inheritance for his company by allowing a woman to also be named heir. This important detail will determine the future of his company, since he has many daughters. Protecting his sons is still important, but not as crucial as it once was.

One of my favorite things about this author’s books is her ability to show the reader the lush world of privilege through her descriptions that lead the reader right into the gorgeous rooms. And her characters have many privileges, including city homes and country homes. She also shows us the innermost thoughts and dreams of each of them, adding to our investment in their lives.

What I did not enjoy about The Heir was the rather snail’s pace of the first part of the book. In the first almost 400 pages, the period 1918-1928 was in the spotlight. Then the author took us quickly to 1970, leaping over more than forty years and featuring the grandson of Edward Deravenel and his quest for an heir. By the time he made his appearance, I was still caught up in the treachery of the early twentieth century. Taking such a quick pace at the end of the book left the reader without enough time to really know and care about the character Harry Turner. However, I enjoyed many portions of the book, and recommend it for fans of Barbara Taylor Bradford. Three stars.