REVIEW: DAMAGED, BY LISA SCOTTOLINE

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Set in Philadelphia, the newest Rosato & DiNunzio novel starts right off with Mary DiNunzio, our MC, hitting the ground running. She is intense, dedicated, and good at multi-tasking, which is necessary right now with her wedding looming on the horizon. She and Anthony Rotunno, a college professor, grew up in the same neighborhood. They have much in common.

But just when she needs to focus on the wedding, her newest case grabs her and pulls her all in. Edward O’Brien, the grandfather/guardian of ten-year-old Patrick, has brought in a case that will tug at her heartstrings and keep her absorbed indefinitely. Patrick is dyslexic, but the school district has done nothing to provide services to assist him. One IEP was completed several years before, when he was six, and since then, no services have been set up. He is bullied by the other students, and recently, he was struck by a teacher’s aide. To top things off, the aide quit his job and hired the most obnoxious attorney in Philadelphia, Nick Machiavelli, to sue Edward, claiming that little Patrick pulled a pair of scissors on him.

Damaged is an intense page turner that kept me going until I had to finally stop to sleep. I loved how Mary dug in and found creative solutions to each obstacle that arose, and when tragedy strikes, she is right there with another solution. I loved learning about the ins and outs of special education law, some of which I knew already, but it felt great to polish up this knowledge. Also the children’s services issues are familiar to me, except for the differences between states that are inevitable.

Will Mary win the war against the horrible Machiavelli? Is Patrick more damaged than anyone realized? How will Mary’s absorption in this case affect her upcoming nuptials?

My favorite thing about this author’s novels is how quickly I connect with the characters, and how easy it is to root for some and abhor others. Just when it seemed as though all would finally come together, a few more surprising and agonizing twists shook Mary and her associates to the core. But Mary kept going, her determination and love of family guiding her. Five stars.

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

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REVIEW: THE PERFECT NEIGHBORS, BY SARAH PEKKANEN

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Kellie Scott has finally gone back to work after years of being a stay-at-home mom. Her new career as a realtor offers the opportunity to enjoy the bucolic neighborhoods in the community, including her very own Newport Cove.

Viewing the homes and observing the people that inhabit them offers that something special to her new job, and so do the attentions of a handsome colleague. And what is the harm in a little flirtation?

Meanwhile, Susan Barrett enjoys running her own company, Your Other Daughter, a program which assists the elderly when they have no family around to provide routine support with everyday tasks. The work keeps her busy, she enjoys her time with her son Cole, but her heart is still broken from her divorce…and the betrayal of the woman who had been her friend.

Gigi and Joe Kennedy are another “perfect” family, under the glaring spotlight of a political campaign. Joe is running for Congress. But what happens when a power-hungry campaign manager intrudes into family matters in ways that make him impossible to keep around? Will Joe give up his political aspirations?

Finally, the newest neighbors seem a little more closed-off, their façade hard to penetrate. Are they really too good to fit in, or is there more to the story? Tessa and Harry Campbell might have a darker side than any of them can imagine.

The Perfect Neighbors was an interesting peek behind closed doors, as we gradually come to know each of the characters, including their flaws and secrets. Very slowly we learn, through flashbacks, the shocking secret that uprooted the Campbells and brought them to Newport Cove.

I liked the occasional excerpts in each chapter that showed the chatty repartee of the neighbors through their online newsletter, ListServ, the go-to place for newsy tidbits about events, about the rules regarding such ordinary things as how to properly deal with dog poop, and neighborly challenges and disagreements. These snippets added a light and humorous tone to the story.

When I reached the final page, I had a feeling that I really knew these individuals…and wanted to keep spending time with them. 4.5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publishers via NetGalley.

REVIEW: TUESDAY NIGHTS IN 1980, BY MOLLY PRENTISS

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The Manhattan art scene at the beginning of a new decade, the 1980s, is the premise of Tuesday Nights in 1980. We meet the main characters at different points in their lives, finally zeroing in on them as they navigate the new decade and struggle to express their art.

We are first introduced to Raul Engales, who has emigrated from Argentina, and then catch a glimpse of James Bennett and his wife Marge, as they join in with others for a New Year’s celebration at an art aficionado’s loft.

We see what each of their lives were like before, via flashbacks, and then we come to understand their particular gifts, which are unique. James’s synesthesia expresses itself via color, which is how he experiences his world, and how he interprets art through his column in the New York Times. Raul’s expression takes another form, but which surprisingly catches the attention of some gallery owners.

Enter Lucy Marie Olliason, who arrived a few months earlier from Ketchum, Idaho, and we see how her journey to Manhattan has been a fervent desire for years. I especially enjoyed watching her put her new life together…and then saw how she met up with Raul.

But things change, and just when everyone seemed firmly set on his or her path, a tragedy changes everything. How they each react to and inform their lives afterwards formulates the rest of their story.

While I enjoyed some of the stories and vignettes that gave us a peek into this unique world, the story plodded along for me, and I lost interest halfway through. I liked Lucy the most, and occasionally, James. Raul was a character with whom I did not connect, despite several instances that might ordinarily elicit my interest.

For me, this book earned three stars.

REVIEW: I LET YOU GO, BY CLAIRE MACKINTOSH

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A rainy night, a moment that will change everything, and a child slips from his mother’s grasp, careening into the road and the pathway of a car. A car moving too fast, a car that does not stop.

Little Jacob Jordan’s death from that hit and run accident would change many lives. Our story begins with the mother’s narrative; the unnamed mother, at least in the beginning.

We then watch the journey, in the first person narrative, of a young woman named Jenna Gray, who seems to be running from something. Is she the mother? Or is she the hit and run driver? Why is she so frightened all the time?

There are numerous points along the way when I knew that nothing about I Let You Go was simple. The case has gone cold, and more than a year has passed, when some evidence comes to light. What will happen, and who will the police bring in for questioning. Who will be accused?

Meanwhile, even after the police believe they have the culprit, a new narrative appears, a first person voice that seems chilling, one that hints at much more to the story. The voice belongs to a man called Ian Peterson, and he seems to be addressing a “you” who turns out to be Jennifer/Jenna.

Themes of violence, loss, secrets, betrayals, and domestic violence add many layers to a story which is now a lot more complex than we originally believed.

I also enjoyed the sections involving the police inspectors. Ray and Kate became familiar to this reader, and I liked glimpsing their personal lives and seeing how they arrived at their conclusions. How, in the last possible moments, they figured out what information had been missing all along.

A chilling and dramatic conclusion left me holding my breath until the final page…and even then, I wasn’t sure that something dark would not appear at the last second. 5 stars.

WEEKLY UPDATES: TRIPLE DIGITS ARE HERE!

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Good morning! Today’s post will link up to The Sunday Salon, The Sunday Post and Stacking the Shelves, for weekly updates.

**Mailbox Monday is hosted at the home site: Mailbox Monday.

And let’s join Kathryn, our leader in It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?, at Book Date.

 

It has been a very HOT week, with triple digits.  Any plans I had to go to the nearby Craft Beer Crawl (seriously, I wouldn’t do that anyway), are now on the back burner…way back.  I spent some time rearranging my stuff last night, and I went to bed very early.  See what I did in this post about More Furniture Shuffling.

I planned to finish reading my current book before posting this, but I am tired…and might spend some more time today watching movies and Netflix.  Especially since I now have straightened out my bank for the mistakes they made in my account!  But before that happened, I was stressing out in a major way.

I have read and reviewed THREE books this week, all review books, so I’m right on track.

 

LAST WEEK ON THE BLOGS:

Monday Morning Coffee:  My Interior World

Tuesday Sparks:  Excerpting “Two If By Sea”

Monthly Wrap-Up:  Goodbye to May!

Bookish Wednesday:  Waiting for “Intrusion”

Bookish Thursday #16:  Serendipitous Moments

Bookish Friday:  Excerpting “Wilde Lake”

Weekend Coffee Morning:  Kids & Grandkids…

Review:  The Girls in the Garden (e-book), by Lisa Jewell (NetGalley – 6/7)

Review:  Ink and Bone (e-book), by Lisa Unger – (NetGalley – 6/7)

Review:  I Almost Forgot About You, by Terry McMillan (Amazon Vine)

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AROUND THE BLOGOSPHERE:

Check out Lexxie’s Post:  Up Close and (un)Conventional – Let’s Talk About Sex

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INCOMING BOOKS: (Titles/Covers Linked to Amazon)

I received TWO review books in my mailbox and one e-ARC download for review from NetGalley.  Plus…I went a little crazy with e-book purchases…and like a gift from the Amazon gods, received TWO Amazon Kindle freebies.

Here we go!

Beach Blues, by Joanne DeMaio (Author Review Request)

 

 

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Tuesday Nights in 1980, by Molly Prentiss (Amazon Vine)

 

 

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All Is Not Forgotten (e-book), by Wendy Walker (NetGalley – 7/12)

 

 

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Amazon Prime Freebies:

 

We’re All Damaged (e-book), by Matthew Norman

 

 

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Intrusion (e-book), by Mary McCluskey

 

 

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Purchases:

The Island House (e-book), by Nancy Thayer

 

 

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Flight Patterns (e-book), by Karen White

 

 

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Deep Dark (e-book), by Laura Griffin

 

 

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WHAT’S UP NEXT? (Titles/Covers Linked to Amazon)

Currently Reading:  Wilde Lake (e-book), by Laura Lippman

 

 

 

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Perhaps I’ll get around to these….

 

The Girls (e-book), by Emma Cline (NetGalley – 6/14)

 

 

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All the Missing Girls (e-book), by Megan Miranda (NetGalley – 6/28)

 

 

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Now that’s my week, and those are my plans, subject to my whimsical feelings.  What did your week look like?  Enjoy!  I might have to have another of these Pomegranate Martinis!

 

 

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MONTHLY WRAP-UP: GOODBYE TO MAY!

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It is that time again!  The end of a month that seems to have flown by, but which brought a number of engaging books to read and review.  Click my titles to see my reviews.

Join Kathryn, at Book Date, in linking up to see what others are sharing in their monthly wrap-ups.

My total was lower than last month’s, but I still feel as though I had a good month.  I had a nice mix of contemporary fiction, nonfiction, psychological thrillers, and literary fiction.  A good month.

What did yours look like? 

 

 

MAY 2016:

1.  Better Off Without Him (e-book), by Dee Ernst – 348 pages – (contemporary romance) – 5/27/16

2.   Born with Teeth:  A Memoir, by Kate Mulgrew – 302 pages – (nonfiction) – 5/23/16

3.   Breakdown (e-book), by Jonathan Kellerman – 350 pages – (murder mystery) – 5/26/16

4.  Children, The (e-book), by Ann Leary – 256 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 5/11/16 – (NetGalley – 5/24)

5. Don’t You Cry (e-book), by Mary Kubica – 384 pages – (psychological thriller) – 5/4/17 (NetGalley – 5/17)

6.  Girls in the Garden, The (e-book), by Lisa Jewell – 432 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 5/29/16 (NetGalley – 6/7)

7.   Ink and Bone (e-book), by Lisa Unger – 352 pages – (thriller) – 5/31/16 – (NetGalley – 6/7)

8.  Lies & Other Acts of Love (e-book), Kristy Woodson Harvey – 322 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 5/1/16

9.   My Name Is Lucy Barton (e-book), by Elizabeth Strout – 209 pages – (literary fiction) – 5/10/16

10.  Other Typist, The (e-book), by Suzanne Rindell – 354 pages – (psychological thriller) – 5/16/16

11.   Ramblers, The (e-book), by Aidan Donnelley Rowley – 385 pages – (literary fiction) – 5/20/16

12 . What We Find (e-book), by Robyn Carr – 352 pages – (contemporary fiction) – 5/9/16

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NUMBER OF BOOKS READ IN MAY 2016:     12

NUMBER OF PAGES READ IN MAY 2016:    4,046

BOOKS READ YTD:                                                       71

FAVORITE FICTION BOOK IN MAY 2016:   Don’t You Cry, by Mary Kubica

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REVIEW: THE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN, BY LISA JEWELL

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Clare Wild and her two daughters, Grace and Pip, had landed in the Virginia Park area of London following the tragic fire that burned their home down. The fire was set by her mentally ill husband Chris. Now with her husband tucked away in a psychiatric hospital, Clare is on her own.

Almost immediately, Clare and her girls are thrust into the communal nature of the area, welcomed by Adele, an earth mother type who homeschools her three daughters, and includes everyone in parties and barbecues. Clare is reluctant, but she complies.

Adele and Leo’s three daughters seem a little wild to Clare: Catkin, the oldest, has dreadlocks in her hair; Fern, the middle daughter, is obsessive and constantly clutches a satin comforter; and Willow is in constant motion, physically and verbally.

A group of the teenagers has already formed, one that includes a boy named Dylan and another strange and somewhat mean girl named Tyler. But if Grace and Pip do not join in, who will they hang out with? So they become part of the wild and crazy “gang,” participating in a free-for-all with nobody governing their behavior, as nobody seemed worried about their activities.

The Girls in the Garden was narrated by multiple voices, including Clare, Pip, and Adele, among others. Secrets from the past surface during those months spent in the communal garden, and when something tragic happens to Grace, there will be many questions, as well as flashes back to what happened years before. A death that was never solved.

Did one of the girls do something to Grace? Or could Leo or even his strange father Gordon have been responsible? Why is the somewhat disturbed girl Tyler the first one everyone thinks of when talking about events? Finally, though, why is Grace not pointing her finger at anyone or telling a different version, other than “it just happened”?

In the end, the reader must draw her own conclusions, or continue to ponder the mysteries. Definitely a book for those who enjoy secrets, mysteries, and the puzzling dynamics of group behavior. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: BORN WITH TEETH: A MEMOIR, BY KATE MULGREW

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The first daughter of Joan and Thomas Mulgrew came into the world with four tiny baby teeth, and while the parents were amazed and crowed over her beauty, the friends and neighbors in Dubuque, Iowa, worried that being so proud of her looks would bring nothing good.

Eventually, however, the tiny teeth were removed by the doctor, and the baby grew normally, developing a zest for solid food.

Thus began the life of Kate Mulgrew, who was followed by several more babies, until the family eventually moved to a larger house in the country, one they came to call Derby Grange.

Born with Teeth is a memoir, but it reads like a fictional story at times, and I held my breath, wondering what would unfold next. Not having read much about this actress before this book, I was drawn into the story of how she came to attend Stella Adler’s Studio of Acting as a teenager; how she starred in various productions through the workshop; and eventually joined a soap opera called Ryan’s Hope. While on that show, she fell in love with a young man…and got pregnant. The pregnancy was written into the show, but sadly, afterwards, she gave up the baby, a girl, for adoption. This loss would follow her throughout the years.

Theater was her first love, but she came to appreciate television production, and went on to be a part of another TV show called HeartBeat, in which she starred as a doctor. I remember this show, and enjoyed watching her perform.

Love came along, too, and two beautiful sons. But the marriage would not survive….and she escaped to Ireland to heal. Where she met her true soul mate. But would that relationship survive, with all the obstacles that stood in their way?

Meanwhile, her biggest show yet was about to come. Star Trek: Voyager would come to be one remembered by most people. The show was on for seven seasons.

Now she is a wonderful star in Orange Is the New Black, where she inhabits the role of Red as only she can.

Would Kate eventually find the happiness and love she longed for? Would her life settle into something peaceful? Turning the pages was a very satisfying experience for me, as I wanted to find the answers, too, and I enjoyed her writing style, which felt as though we were having a conversation. Then, in the final, suspenseful chapters, I felt a wonderful satisfaction about the events that unfolded. 5 stars.

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: 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.