REVIEW: DEAD LETTERS, BY CAITE DOLAN-LEACH

Ava has her reasons for running away to Paris. But when she receives the shocking news that her twin sister, Zelda, is dead, she is forced to return home to her family’s failing vineyard in upstate New York. Knowing Zelda’s penchant for tricks and deception, Ava is not surprised when she receives her twin’s cryptic message from beyond the grave. Following her sister’s trail of clues, Ava immerses herself in Zelda’s drama and her outlandish circle of friends and lovers, and soon finds herself confronted with dark family legacies and twisted relationships. Is Zelda trying to punish Ava for leaving? Or is she simply trying to write her own ending? Caite Dolan-Leach’s debut thriller is a literary scavenger hunt for secrets hidden everywhere from wine country to social media, and buried at the dysfunctional heart of one utterly unforgettable family.

Dead Letters begins with some background into the lives of the twins, Ava and Zelda, and how they were named. We learn that Ava has received a notification of Zelda’s presumed death in a fire. Soon we begin seeing a series of letters from Zelda to Ava, dated a few years before…and then the letters start coming from the present. Is Zelda still alive? And if so, what kind of game is she playing.

The story slips between the past and the present, and we slowly learn more about the dysfunctional Antipova family. Dementia and addiction seem to have marked them, but the most notable relationships are those between the twins. They were close, but their relationship was marred by the games they played.

What will eventually reveal itself? Will Ava return to Paris and the life she was building there, or will she settle for adjusting to her life as part of the family?

Just when I thought that I had figured out Zelda’s game, everything turned upside down and we were forced to accept some stunning truths. I enjoyed the characters and trying to sort through the puzzle pieces, but parts of it dragged on too long for my taste. The writing was great, however, and earned 4 stars from me.

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

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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***

REVIEW: THREE-MARTINI LUNCH, BY SUZANNE RINDELL

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They were all young and so full of hope, back in 1958. Students, writers, young radicals, and party seekers…they had the future before them, and they were eager to reach out for it. They hung out in Greenwich Village, but their partying took them all over the city.

The core group included Cliff Nelson, whose father was Chief Editor at a large publishing house. Cliff, however, had dropped out of Columbia and despite his life of entitlement and privilege, found himself rudderless when his father cut him off financially. Nevertheless, his background gave him a confidence and brashness that stayed with him for a while…but then his inability to launch his writing career had him scrambling to find another way. Flawed and unable to view his own qualities honestly, Cliff was an interesting character, but unlikeable in many ways.

Eden Katz had come to New York from Indiana, and with her eye on an eventual job as an editor for a publishing house, she brought with her two letters of introduction. How she uses the second letter forms a part of her story after she realizes that sometimes you can trust the wrong people.

Miles Tillman, a young black man and recent graduate of Columbia supports himself as a bicycle messenger while seeking more permanent work. A journey to San Francisco in search of his father’s mysterious journal from his war years leads Miles to unexpected connections. While he struggles to make sense of his life, he finds himself pondering a lifestyle that could cement his role as an outsider.

Hangers-on like Rusty Morrisdale, full of himself and his job working for a literary agent, found a peripheral role in the group, but his behavior was obnoxious. Others put up with him, believing he had something to offer. Then there was good looking Bobby who drew many to him, just because of his beauty and his charisma. These extraneous characters reveal themselves occasionally, but really add little to the story, except as cautionary reminders of what to avoid. Or as foils for the primary characters.

Can the characters reach their dreams? What will they have to do to make that happen? Will the past rear its ugly head and bring them down? What would be the eventual links between them that would last beyond those early years, and how would the events of their youth inform their lives? Then, as a final twist, the author fast-forwards to the 1980s to reveal some of the consequences in the characters’ lives.

Three-Martini Lunch was alternately narrated by Cliff, Eden, and Miles. Their antics, their dreams, and what they would do to achieve them resonates for those who have lived during those times. The author vividly paints the scenes, depicting the era with authenticity, bringing a nostalgic glimmer to those moments from the past. The typewriter as an instrument felt like a poignant reminder of what once was, for those who now enjoy the technology of computers and social networking, while the party scenes vividly show the reader what real life connections look like. 5 stars.

REVIEW: THOSE SECRETS WE KEEP, BY EMILY LIEBERT

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In the year following the sudden death of her sister Amy, Sloane has been struggling. Her loss consumes her, although she still clings to her remaining connections, to her daughter Maddie and her husband Eddie.

But for a while now, she has felt distanced from her marriage.

So when Maddie heads off to sleepaway camp that summer, Sloane takes her aunt up on her offer to spend some time in her cabin at Lake George. And Sloane invites her friend Hillary, who has become someone she sees as reliable and comforting.

But before she can even drive away from her home in Brookline, Massachusetts, Sloane’s old college friend Georgina calls and insists on coming with them.

Frustrated, Sloane tries to look forward to the getaway, but is reminded once again of how disappointing her friendship with Georgina has become. A wild child, Georgina has always had all the money she wanted and no responsibilities. She is loud, gregarious, and pushes her way into every situation, with her sense of entitlement showing.

It was easy to dislike the character of Georgina, and even though Sloane is trying to figure out what she wants and where she will end up, I found myself rooting for her. And I was also eager to see good things happen for Hillary. Before the summer ends, however, we will discover the big secret she has been keeping from her husband.

Those Secrets We Keep was a somewhat predictable novel about friendships, secrets, and trying to find new beginnings during a summer getaway, and while there were some unexpected situations, like the huge secret Georgina has been keeping, there was nothing particularly unique about the story or the characters.

However, it was interesting to see how everything played out, watching what the women would do and what choices they would make. 4 stars.