REVIEW: THE ROANOKE GIRLS, BY AMY ENGEL

 

“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran…fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

MY THOUGHTS:
It was not difficult to figure out the darkness hiding behind the walls of the beautiful estate called Roanoke. The charismatic grandfather/father, Yates Roanoke, had a way about him, a way that drew the girls to him. They were all wounded in one way or another, and his kind of love felt better than no love at all. Their mothers had died or run away, and they were left behind, not believing they were worthy of love. And Yates was there, promising them love and protection from the outside world.

Allegra was probably the most wounded, as her mother left when she was only a couple of months old. She knew she was not destined for a normal life, but she still loved having control over her lover Tommy, luxuriating in the belief that she could have him any time she wanted.

Lane’s mother, Camilla, had left when she was pregnant with her. They were together for sixteen years, but Lane never felt loved. She sensed that there was something dark about Roanoke that her mother would not talk about. It would be years later before she learned why her mother couldn’t seem to love her.

Narrated in the first person voice of Lane, The Roanoke Girls weaves back and forth in time, sometimes in a repetitive way, inserting brief snippets about the previous generation: Sophia, Penelope, Eleanor, Camilla, and little Emmeline. We learn about the summer Lane came to Roanoke for the first time, at age sixteen, and why she fled after that brief period, holding her own secrets close to her heart.

Coming back to search for Allegra will resurrect all the pain of the past. Will she find closure? Or will she simply experience, once again, the powerful pull of darkness that has kept all the girls fragile and in a suspended childhood world?

What happened to Allegra? Did she, too, run away, or did something nefarious happen to her? Why did Tommy’s jealous wife Sarah come to see Allegra only hours before she disappeared? Will the police find the answers, or will another secret be locked away behind the walls of Roanoke? 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE GOOD DAUGHTER, BY ALEXANDRA BURT

 

 

What if you were the worst crime your mother ever committed?
 
Dahlia Waller’s childhood memories consist of stuffy cars, seedy motels, and a rootless existence traveling the country with her eccentric mother. Now grown, she desperately wants to distance herself from that life. Yet one thing is stopping her from moving forward: she has questions.
 
In order to understand her past, Dahlia must go back. Back to her mother in the stifling town of Aurora, Texas. Back into the past of a woman on the brink of madness. But after she discovers three grave-like mounds on a neighboring farm, she’ll learn that in her mother’s world of secrets, not all questions are meant to be answered…
My Thoughts: We begin The Good Daughter with a mother and child, endlessly driving from one place to another, crossing state lines, from Texas, to New Mexico, and to California, occasionally stopping for a while. As the child grows, she begins to realize that her life is not like the lives of other people. Her mother is secretive, fearful, and has strange habits, like collecting crickets in jars. Her mother calls her “Pet,” but then at some point tells her she is named Dahlia, and that she is Memphis Waller.

They settle again in Aurora, Texas. But always there is a major hurdle to a normal life: what Dahlia calls “paperwork issues.” There are no birth certificates or social security numbers, so all jobs are worked off the books.

After high school, Dahlia leaves Texas and is gone for fifteen years. Upon her return, she connects with an old friend, Bobby, who is now a cop. She continues to work off the books, used to it by now, while still feeling some resentment at how she and her mother have lived their lives.

Shortly after returning “home,” Dahlia is out jogging and stumbles upon a girl, badly beaten and unconscious. The mystery of who she is and what happened to her will hover over the story until the end.

Alternating narratives from the past show moments in the lives of Quinn, Tain, and an old woman named Aella. Their stories somehow mesh with the lives of Memphis and Dahlia, but we will not connect the dots until finally, near the end, Memphis starts sharing the tale in bits and pieces.

I kept reading because I wanted the answers, and I was definitely curious about what was behind all the secrets Memphis was keeping. So much of what had happened to her was horrific, so I could empathize. But I was also very glad for the story to end. It was repetitive in parts, as each character told bits of her story. I felt closure at the end, so in that sense, it was satisfactory. But for me, it earned 3.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE TROPHY CHILD, BY PAULA DALY

the-trophy-child

 

 

Karen Bloom is not the coddling mother type. She believes in raising her children for success. Some in the neighborhood call her assertive, others say she’s driven, but in gossiping circles she’s known as: the tiger mother. Karen believes that tough discipline is the true art of parenting and that achievement leads to ultimate happiness. She expects her husband and her children to perform at 200 percent—no matter the cost. But in an unending quest for excellence, her seemingly flawless family start to rebel against her.

Her husband Noel is a handsome doctor with a proclivity for alcohol and women. Their prodigy daughter, Bronte, is excelling at school, music lessons, dance classes, and yet she longs to run away. Verity, Noel’s teenage daughter from his first marriage, is starting to display aggressive behavior. And Karen’s son from a previous relationship falls deeper into drug use. When tragedy strikes the Blooms, Karen’s carefully constructed facade begins to fall apart—and once the deadly cracks appear, they are impossible to stop.

My Thoughts: In The Trophy Child, the Bloom family enjoyed a privileged life, with private schools, social connections, and a lovely home in the Lake District. Despite the world of privilege, Karen seemed driven. She was a character almost impossible to like. She wasn’t just questing for excellence for her children and her family. She lashed out on a regular basis, arousing fear, loathing, and anger in those she targeted. Sooner or later, someone would surely strike back.One could almost describe Karen as delusional, as she so firmly believed that her daughter Bronte was gifted, despite evidence to the contrary, and insisted on scheduling every imaginable activity, to her detriment. The child reacted with fatigue and displayed symptoms of stress.

Who would crack first under Karen’s tyrannical regime? What might bring about the toppling of the little kingdom of superiority she has envisioned? How will the family members express their resentments of the roles they are expected to play? Verity, the teenage stepdaughter, is literally overlooked to the point that she has to prepare her own meals and eats separately, while Karen is gallivanting around with Bronte to her activities. Karen’s son, a young adult, lives over the garage and does drugs and lays about with an equally troubled friend.

I was totally engaged in the author’s depiction of the characters, each of them realistic and three-dimensional, with all the emotions one would expect in a family as dysfunctional as this one. I especially enjoyed the character of DS Joanne Aspinall, on hand to help the family with their tragedies. She is diligent, down-to-earth…and she will get the perpetrator, even if she must put her own life in jeopardy. Discovering motives, connections, and the gradual unfolding of secrets led to a very satisfactory culmination. 5 stars.

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

cropped again 5

REVIEW: COMMONWEALTH, BY ANN PATCHETT

28214468

 

 

 

The story begins at a christening in an LA suburb. It especially zeroes in on a person who has crashed the party. Bert Cousins, from the DA’s office, seems oddly out of place in this party mostly populated by cops and their wives and children.

He doesn’t even bring a gift for the baby (Frances, the daughter of Fix and Beverly Keating). Just a large bottle of gin.

This man will go on to turn all their lives upside down. Yes, he had help from some of the other characters, but without actions he has taken, all of their lives would have been different.

Commonwealth is a fascinating story of dysfunctional families that carries the reader from the 1960s to the present. We don’t follow the characters in a linear style, but move back and forth. Sometimes we are swept backward by a character’s memory that takes us there. And sometimes we are catapulted back by events.

I was especially drawn to Fix Keating and his daughters, Caroline and Franny. But as we move along this circuitous pathway to follow each of their journeys, we see how the non-linear style works for the story. More information is yielded with each backward turn. And suddenly we are seeing some of the characters reconnect in unexpected ways as the story comes to its ending. And we are offered another glimpse into the Cousins family, a peek that we did not see before.

How does Franny’s young adult relationship with an author named Leon Posen change the trajectory of their lives…again? How has Caroline controlled the narrative of tragic events that brought sadness and loss to the families? Why does Albie, Bert’s youngest, seemingly drive the story in a new direction? In one Christmas that Franny spends with her mother Beverly and another of her husbands, with his grown children, she ponders the various connections by marriage. She maps out all the ways the future would unravel without the moorings of the past. The “what ifs” in their lives keep her mind spinning.

From LA to Virginia, with side journeys to Chicago and Manhattan, we see families with all their tarnished history, struggling to maintain broken bonds, even as time marches on, forcing them to face their mortality. Can they stay true to what connects them, even when they are in disarray? Will their core truths bring them peace? I loved this book, and the more I thought about it, and as I wandered along the strange pathways with the characters, I knew that I would be thinking of it for a long time. 5 stars.

cropped again 5***

TWO SISTERS: A REVIEW

81JfBO39a4L._SL1500_

Does the tale of the unwanted third child, Muriel Sullivant, begin on a cozy Sunday in her New York studio apartment, as she prepares to luxuriate in her favorite day of the week? She is grown by then, and enjoying the independence of the life she has chosen.

Or does it begin many years before, when her two parents, Owen and Lidia, met in Pawtucket, Rhode Island? That beginning would set the stage for a family of secrets and lies.

Muriel had always known that she was the unwanted child. Pia, her gorgeous sister, was the oldest and eight years her senior. Next came Logan, the son for her father. One child for Owen and one for Lidia. Then there was chubby Muriel, the outsider, who doesn’t fit in. She can sense her mother’s disapproval of her in every facial expression; her sister’s feelings show when she treats her like a nuisance.

Two Sisters: A Novel is a sad and emotional tale of all the things that go wrong in a family when the two parents feel trapped and disappointed with the lives they’re living. How does the third child survive the emotional abandonment?

I enjoyed the depth of the characters. Muriel’s sense of humor came from a place of pain, but revealed the strength of the survivor. Pia’s superficiality was altered as she came to Muriel with a big secret: a tragic event that would change all of their lives. And finally, in New Mexico, we meet Logan again, as the last of the secrets and lies are revealed.

In the opening scenes of the story, the flashbacks and fast forwards sometimes came too quickly, jolting me a bit. But then I began to settle into the flow of it.

There was a sweet feeling of new beginnings at the end. Not in an unrealistic way, but in the manner of baby steps and slow progress. There was a glimpse of hope. Recommended for those who relish family stories that are replete with secrets, especially when they are revealed slowly. Four stars.