REVIEW: PLAYING NICE, BY JP DELANEY

 

Pete Riley answers the door one morning and lets in a parent’s worst nightmare. On his doorstep is Miles Lambert, a stranger who breaks the devastating news that Pete’s son, Theo, isn’t actually his son—he is the Lamberts’, switched at birth by an understaffed hospital while their real son was sent home with Miles and his wife, Lucy. For Pete, his partner Maddie, and the little boy they’ve been raising for the past two years, life will never be the same again.

The two families, reeling from the shock, take comfort in shared good intentions, eagerly entwining their very different lives in the hope of becoming one unconventional modern family. But a plan to sue the hospital triggers an official investigation that unearths some disturbing questions about the night their children were switched. How much can they trust the other parents—or even each other? What secrets are hidden behind the Lamberts’ glossy front door? Stretched to the breaking point, Pete and Maddie discover they will each stop at nothing to keep their family safe.

Playing Nice brings out the worst kind of crisis for two couples, one that will change everything they believed and hoped to find in family life.

At first, when the Lamberts seem congenial and eager to compromise, Pete and Maddie almost sigh with relief. But then the true nightmare begins, when the act of “playing nice” is revealed in full.

As Miles begins to show his true self and the horror of his intentions, his actions intensify as the custody case ratchets up.

But what happens next after a judge makes her decision? Will there be happiness at last, or will more secrets come out that will change everything again? Who will finally find comfort and joy with the children? A brilliant story that kept me turning pages and hoping for the right outcome for my favorite characters. 5 stars.

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

***

REVIEW: THE COUNTRY GUESTHOUSE, BY ROBYN CARR

A summer rental, a new beginning…

Hannah Russell’s carefully crafted plans for her life have been upended without warning. When her best friend died suddenly, Hannah became guardian to a five-year-old named Noah. With no experience at motherhood, she’s terrified she’s not up to the challenge. She and Noah need time to get to know each other, so she decides to rent a country house with stunning views on a lake in rural Colorado.

When they arrive at the house, they are greeted by the owner, a handsome man who promises to stay out of their way. But his clumsy Great Dane, Romeo, has other ideas and Noah immediately bonds with the lovable dog. As Hannah learns to become a mother, Owen Abrams, who is recovering from his own grief, can’t help but be drawn out of his solitude by his guests.

But life throws more challenges at this unlikely trio and they are tested in ways they never thought possible. All three will discover their strengths and, despite their differences, they will fight to become a family. And the people of Sullivan’s Crossing will rally around them to offer all of the support they need.

 

I do enjoy visiting Sullivan’s Crossing and reconnecting with familiar characters like Sully, Helen, and others. Hannah merges nicely with this group, bringing her own unique strengths to the mix.

I liked that she and Owen, photographer and guesthouse owner, got along so well, and that he was a positive role model for little Noah.

When challenges presented themselves, he aided in facing off against them.

Throughout The Country Guesthouse, I felt like I was taking a stroll in the beautiful settings while enjoying the time I spent with the characters. An enjoyable read, although parts of the story lagged for me. The positives outweighed those moments, however, leading to a 4 star rating.***

REVIEW: THE ESCAPE ARTIST, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

 

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When Susanna Miller loses custody of her 11-month old son Tyler to her ex-husband Jim and his new wife Peggy, she is afraid that her life is over.

From the moment she first discovered that Jim was cheating on her with Peggy, right after she discovered she was pregnant, she has been in free fall, descending into the darkness that will soon become her life.

Her best friend Linc Sebastian, who lived next door to her in childhood and has now become her lover and her support system, believes that they can somehow make it anyway.

But what Susanna does next will change all of their lives.

She has planned ahead, and the morning of the day she was supposed to turn over Tyler, she is on the run, with a new identity, some cash, and a plan. Her journey takes her across country from Boulder, Colorado, to Annapolis, Maryland, where she slowly begins anew as Kimberly Stratton.

The Escape Artist was a riveting story that had a few implausible twists and turns, but I couldn’t stop reading it. Soon I was immersed with Kimberly in her new life with her new friends, like an artist named Adam Soria and his sister Jessie. And in her cute apartment in an old Victorian, she finds support from her new landlady Ellen and her neighbor Lucy.

But the secrets she must hide keep her from truly connecting, and then she makes a dark discovery that seems to threaten the new life and bring everything to a screeching halt.

What is the meaning of the strange file Kim has found on the used computer she bought? What happened the night someone broke into her apartment, making her feel totally unsafe again?

In the end, everything fell into place pretty neatly, and while I was happy with the conclusions, it all felt a little bit unlikely. Still an enjoyable read for fans of Chamberlain and for all those who can relate to family/custody situations. 4.0 stars.