REVIEW: THE ONE & ONLY, BY EMILY GIFFIN

 

Thirty-three-year-old Shea Rigsby has spent her entire life in Walker, Texas—a small college town that lives and dies by football, a passion she unabashedly shares. Raised alongside her best friend, Lucy, the daughter of Walker’s legendary head coach, Clive Carr, Shea was too devoted to her hometown team to leave. Instead she stayed in Walker for college, even taking a job in the university athletic department after graduation, where she has remained for more than a decade.

But when an unexpected tragedy strikes the tight-knit Walker community, Shea’s comfortable world is upended, and she begins to wonder if the life she’s chosen is really enough for her. As she finally gives up her safety net to set out on an unexpected path, Shea discovers unsettling truths about the people and things she has always trusted most—and is forced to confront her deepest desires, fears, and secrets.

My Thoughts: In the beginning of The One and Only, I had mixed feelings about the book. I am not a football addict, and I feared that the game, its players, and its fans would take over the story. But I started caring about Shea right away, and I found that I could relate to her feelings about her hometown and about family, even though my own experiences were quite different.

Watching how her unique friendship with Coach Clive Carr, her best friend’s father, started changing after his wife’s death caught me up in their story, and I couldn’t help rooting for them. I knew that they were about to encounter a lot of push back from people, especially Shea’s friend Lucy.

The slow build of passion between Coach and Shea allowed time for her to experience some other relationships that did not work out, and which increased the pull between them. When it looked like their love was doomed, I hoped for some kind of miracle. The quick turnaround at the end was a bit much, though, and left me feeling cheated out of more special moments. But overall, I had to keep turning the pages, wondering how the characters’ lives would come together. 4 stars.

***
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REVIEW: IT’S ALWAYS THE HUSBAND, BY MICHELE CAMPBELL

 

Kate, Aubrey, and Jenny first met as college roommates and soon became inseparable, despite being as different as three women can be. Kate was beautiful, wild, wealthy, and damaged. Aubrey, on financial aid, came from a broken home, and wanted more than anything to distance herself from her past. And Jenny was a striver—brilliant, ambitious, and determined to succeed. As an unlikely friendship formed, the three of them swore they would always be there for each other.

But twenty years later, one of them is standing at the edge of a bridge, and someone is urging her to jump.

How did it come to this?

Kate married the gorgeous party boy, Aubrey married up, and Jenny married the boy next door. But how can these three women love and hate each other? Can feelings this strong lead to murder?

When one of them dies under mysterious circumstances, will everyone assume, as is often the case, that it’s always the husband?


My Thoughts: In a story that begins with one of the women standing on the edge of a cliff, It’s Always the Husband takes us back and forth in time, from when the girls were roommates at Carlisle, in the Whipple House dorm. They became known as the Whipple Triplets, and oftentimes the moniker denoted their adventures, misdeeds, and dark habits.

Something happens one dark night: a death, lies, and a parting of the ways. The New Hampshire small-town setting kept me engaged, as did the consequences of that one night.

At first I liked Aubrey, feeling sorry for her plight and her attempts to measure up. Jenny was annoying, in that she often did whatever was necessary to be Kate’s best friend, with Kate’s father egging her on. But even she tried to do the right thing, only to be quashed in her attempt.

Kate was so damaged that I couldn’t imagine a scenario that would redeem her.

Twenty years later, I found nothing likable about any of them. The mystery would finally be revealed, and I kept guessing about who pushed one of them off the bridge as I read about the women in the present. There were plenty of suspects, and we watched behind-the-scenes machinations, only to be stunned in the end. Definitely a book that kept me reading, even as I lost interest in the characters before the final page. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: BRIDGES, BY MARIA MURNANE

 

It’s a piece of news Daphne never expected to hear: Her globe-trotting friend Skylar, who vowed never to get married, is engaged! Time to celebrate in Manhattan—Skylar’s treat, of course. After years scaling the corporate ladder, she can more than afford it.

Daphne arrives in NYC with news of her own—the novel she’s finally finished appears to be going nowhere but the trash bin of every publishing house around. She’s devastated but plans to keep her disappointment under wraps, something that becomes trickier when she sees Skylar’s spectacular apartment. Could her life have been like this if she’d chosen a different path?

What Daphne doesn’t know is she’s not the only one with a secret. Skylar and their friend KC are also holding something back, but what? As the trip unfolds, the truth about each woman emerges, along with tears.

And laughter. And love.

My Thoughts: Who doesn’t love a great friends’ weekend? I definitely couldn’t wait to curl up with these three college friends for a Manhattan getaway, to celebrate something special, and to reconnect.

Bridges was the kind of story that resonated with me, as I have always enjoyed the special connections that I’ve felt with college friends. Add in the perfect setting of Manhattan, and there is nothing better. Girl talk, sharing secrets, and even trying new things.

Daphne was my favorite character, primarily because she was a single mother and an aspiring author. I loved watching her experience her first trip to Manhattan. I could see Skylar’s world from her perspective, including visualizing the fabulous apartment that she shared with her fiancé James. I walked the streets with her and her friends. From the Brooklyn Bridge to the cute boutiques and flea markets, I felt as though I was along for the ride.

I was a little intimidated by Skylar, and even by her soon-to-be stepdaughter Sloane…until one night when Daphne lost her cool and let Skylar have it. It was inevitable that old feelings of envy might creep into their moments together, but those conflicts made them all feel very real. When envy reared its head, the air was cleared and they grew even closer.

Events unfolded in unexpected ways, and by the end of the weekend, I wanted more. More of the friends and their unique connection, and more about Daphne’s writing experiences. 5 stars.

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

***

REVIEW: WATCHING EDIE, BY CAMILLA WAY

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What is the cost of a lopsided, twisted friendship? When Edie and Heather met during their school days, in a village near London called Fremton, their friendship seemed to come out of one girl’s need for the other. Even early on, it could be said that one of them needed the other more. One of them would do anything for the friendship. In retrospect, we could also conclude that they each needed the other, but in different proportions and for different reasons.

Divided into segments of Before and After, our narrators’ voices walk us through the history of the two, from the early moments to the tragedy that would change everything.

Edie’s voice reveals the “after” part, as she struggles to make up for past mistakes, and to provide a home in London for her new baby. But early days of motherhood are overwhelming, and a visitor from the past steps in to help.

Meanwhile, we slowly come to see the “before” segments of the lives of these two women through Heather’s eyes. She was the one that others overlooked, the one some even made fun of…but when Edie shined her glance upon her, Heather felt the glow of true friendship.

Could these two unlikely friends help each other? Could they move beyond the strange nature of one’s dependency on the other? Why does Edie feel that Heather is stalking her? How did what happened one fateful night in the past change everything about both their lives in the present?

Throughout Watching Edie, I felt an eerie, even creepy vibe as more of the story unfolded, and until the final reveal, I had an inkling about what might have gone down, but was stunned by what had actually happened. How it all came out to the reader was in a moment of intensity that could have ended very badly.

Each character had an “unreliable narrator” feel to her presentation, and I had a tendency to grant more credence to Edie’s perspective…and then felt badly when I realized how wrong I was. A gripping story that kept me glued to the pages, this book earned 5 stars.

cropped again 5***

REVIEW: WHERE WE BELONG, BY CATHERINE RYAN HYDE

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Our MC and first person narrator, Angie, is seven years old when we first meet her. She is happily constructing houses and villages with her playing cards…and her father is helping her.

When he leaves to get cigarettes, he will never return. His body is found…murdered.

Years later, we enter Angie’s life again, and she and her mother, with preschool sister Sophie, have just been evicted from another in a series of homes. On the verge of homelessness, they move in with Aunt Vi, who is not that happy to have them there. A sense of “waiting for the other shoe to drop” follows their every move. For Sophie has special needs—on the autism spectrum—and one of her unfortunate behaviors is shrieking endlessly until the neighbors call the cops, leading to yet another eviction.

One of the things we learn early on is that Angie is primarily the one in charge of making the plans, deciding how to handle Sophie, and finding their next move. She is only fourteen at this time, and suffering from the extra burden. But she doesn’t come across as resentful…just tired and sad and overly troubled about their future.

Then a reprieve comes their way. Next door is an older man, Paul, whose Great Dane Rigby has a powerful effect on Sophie. She watches him through the fence, he sits down near her, and they seem to connect. When she is near Rigby, Sophie is calm. There are actual hours in the day when she does not shriek.

But then everything changes. Paul is moving to the mountains…and Rigby will be gone. How will they cope?

Strangely enough, Angie’s mother takes charge of this one, and follows Paul up to his mountain home and stays nearby, waiting for the chance to reconnect with Rigby.

How does Angie manage to negotiate a new arrangement with Paul? What has brought the teenage girl and the remote man, who has always wanted his privacy, into a friendship? What will happen when life’s circumstances change again?

Where We Belong is the kind of book I savor. The pace was calm, with the only suspense coming from wondering what Angie will do next to make their lives better. I really rooted for Angie, and while I felt sorry for Sophie, I often wondered if the mother’s inability to be firm and in charge contributed to the problems. I know that I did not like the mother and felt exasperated with her behavior and her inability to be “the mother.” I thought it was interesting that we never find out her name…and there was also a sense of a long-held secret about her husband’s murder.

A book I recommend to all who enjoy the author…and stories about dysfunctional families. In the end, I felt really good about how things were turning out. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THREE STORY HOUSE, BY COURTNEY MILLER SANTO

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The three girls met in 1993, at Silver Beach, Massachusetts. Lizzie Linwood, as the only child of an only child, was improbably now related to these two girls because of her mother’s marriage to Jim when she was seven years old.

They formed a unique connection, these three unexpected cousins, all born during the same month and year. Elyse and Isobel were full of questions for Lizzie, about her life and her dad. But Lizzie, who had lived only with her mother and grandmother in her Grandmother Mellie’s house in Memphis, had no knowledge of her father. Not his name, who he was, or what had happened to him. This fact of her life would haunt her.

Fast forward to November 2011, in Los Angeles, where Lizzie and Isobel have been living in their adulthood, and to a phone call that will take the two of them, joined also by Elyse, back to Memphis and a crumbling, condemned house. The three story house that had been home to Lizzie, and which needed major repairs, rested on a hill overlooking the Mississippi River, and would take them out of their real lives during its restoration. During the process, the house would come to symbolize all of their own failings. Struggling to overcome the challenges they will each discover truths about themselves and what they must do next.

Isobel had starred in a TV show in childhood, and now seeks to find her place in the industry via a reality show during the restoration. Elyse is trying to overcome her obsession with her old lover who is now going to marry her sister. And Lizzie, an athlete, is recovering from her third knee surgery, and wondering if she can ever play soccer again.

Three Story House took place mostly in Memphis during the restoration, but also flipped back and forth in time, revealing significant moments in the lives of the women, now almost thirty.

Divided into three sections, the story focused on each young woman, and I found parts of it fascinating. Within the walls of the old house were clues that could be sorted and assembled to point to some of the answers.

Strange and somewhat disconnected characters filled out the canvas, all having something to do with the past, or with the restoration. While the story dragged for me at times, in the end, there was a satisfactory resolution for each of them, in a sense; however, the revelations felt a little like a balloon that has gone flat. A lot of furor over nothing much. 3.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE RUMOR, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

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Summer in Nantucket brings out the best and the worst in the residents.

Grace and Eddie Pancik are an acknowledged “power couple.” He, with his real estate/construction business and Grace with her gardening business, their names are on everyone’s lips that particular summer.

Madeline Llewelyn is Grace’s best friend. They share confidences and keep each other’s secrets. Until they don’t.

Trevor, Madeline’s husband is a pilot and away a lot. He doesn’t figure into the story very much. But he is supportive of Madeline’s writing and her need for a “room of her own,” so when she rents an apartment for her writing space, he is completely behind it. She is determined to write something worthy of the generous advance she has received after the success of her dystopian novel, Islandia. So will she cross a line to achieve her goal?

Then when Eddie stops by Madeline’s apartment to ask why she used another agent to rent the space, busybody eyes notice him there, and the first “rumor” springs to life. Soon many are chatting about the supposed affair between them.

Meanwhile, however, Grace and Benton Coe, the landscape architect helping her redesign her garden, seem to be spending an awful lot of time together, aside from their gardening.

What is going on? Can the rumor mill spin its wheels fast enough?

Meanwhile, the teenagers are stirring up their own brand of trouble. Eddie and Grace’s twins, Allegra and Hope, are nothing alike. Allegra is narcissistic, spoiled, and cheating on her boyfriend Brick, Trevor and Madeline’s son. Hope, quiet and studious, has her eye on Brick for herself, but she won’t betray her sister.

The Rumor: A Novel is an intriguing story with twists and turns that kept me guessing, even as I suspected where much of it would go before the end. But there were a few surprises, and I liked the ending. A 4 star read for me.

REVIEW: WIFE-IN-LAW, BY HAYWOOD SMITH

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In suburban Atlanta, two completely opposite young women meet as neighbors, and despite the odds, become best friends. It was the 1970s when they first met, so imagine Betsy Callison’s surprise to discover that beneath the surface, she and the young “hippie” Kat Ellis would have something in common. They would bond and sustain that bond for many years.

Betsy and Greg are young Republicans, diametrically opposed politically to Kat and her partner Zach. But over time, the differences mattered less than what connected them. Or so it would seem.

But time and circumstance would change everything, and Betsy would find herself in a very strange situation. Greg has left her for his secretary, and then, a few months later, when Kat is widowed after Zach’s death, Greg starts spending a lot of time with her. When the two of them announce they are getting married, everything seems suddenly surreal.

Would what Betsy knows about Greg be something she could share with Kat, who is suddenly going to marry her ex-husband? And after the wedding, when she realizes that Greg has poisoned her friend against her, will she be able to warn her when old patterns begin to repeat themselves?

Wife-in-Law started out much better than it ended, in my opinion. I liked the first person narrative of Betsy in the present day, and then as she started sharing bits and pieces of the past, I felt I was there with them. The era of the 70s felt real and appropriate for the times; but suddenly, the narrative sped ahead and it seemed as though we were being “told” about what happened, when being shown worked so much better for me.

Betsy’s actions later in the book seemed out-of-character. She was too forgiving and too good…and in the end, her behavior ended up sugar-coated and sweet, which was not where I thought the story would go. I normally love this author’s books, but except for the beginning, this one was disappointing. 3.5 stars.

REVIEW: LEAVING HAVEN, BY KATHLEEN MCCLEARY

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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.

HAPPINESS AS AN ART FORM: A REVIEW

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The story begins by introducing the reader to Guido Morris and Vincent Cardworthy, third cousins and best friends.

A little history of their lives thus far is woven into a tale that soon shows the reader some of their romantic escapades and then, finally, settles into how they eventually pick their marital partners and begin their “real lives.”

Not really a romance, Happy All the Time (Vintage Contemporaries) is instead a peek into the lives of four people: Holly, who seems perfect on the surface and who marries Guido, but who needs little retreats every now and then to maintain her composure; then there is Misty, who is something of a chaotic personality, with pessimism a guiding force; when she ends up with optimistic Vincent, one would think that they would be a mismatch. But the opposite turns out to be true. These four people find one another and discover that “happiness is an art form that requires energy, discipline, and talent.”

This novel is described as a “delightful comedy of manners and morals…about romantic friendship, romantic marriage and romantic love.”

I found myself smiling a lot as I read this story that shared the wonderful details of daily life, with all the challenges of living with a partner. The characters were drawn in such a way that I could visualize them completely. It has been awhile since I’ve read anything by this author, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I liked the theme of happiness, with its underlying promise that one can actually create happiness with the right attitude. Four stars.