REVIEW: SAY YOU’RE SORRY, BY MELINDA LEIGH

After the devastating loss of her husband in Iraq, Morgan Dane returns to Scarlet Falls, seeking the comfort of her hometown. Now, surrounded by family, she’s finally found peace and a promising career opportunity—until her babysitter is killed and her neighbor asks her to defend his son, Nick, who stands accused of the murder.

Tessa was the ultimate girl next door, and the community is outraged by her death. But Morgan has known Nick for years and can’t believe he’s guilty, despite the damning evidence stacked against him. She asks her friend Lance Kruger, an ex-cop turned private eye, for help. Taking on the town, the police, and a zealous DA, Morgan and Lance plunge into the investigation, determined to find the real killer. But as they uncover secrets that rock the community, they become targets for the madman hiding in plain sight.

My Thoughts: Morgan Dane is the kind of character that inspires me, with her love of home, family, and justice. Despite the fact that she comes from a family of cops and plans to work for the DA’s office, she makes a decision that many do not understand. She agrees to defend her neighbor, Nick, arrested for the murder of Tessa, with whom he had a close relationship…because there is just something about him that makes his guilt seem impossible.

Her friend and new partner in the investigation, Lance Kruger, is not as sure of Nick’s innocence, but he is determined to stand by Morgan.

Before she is barely off the ground in the investigation, Morgan is confronted by numerous characters who threaten and shadow her. These actions convince her even more that she is getting close to the truth. Who will she finally pinpoint as the alternate suspect, the true criminal? What happened the night of the party, and who else might have seen what happened? I had my suspicions about several, but in the end, I didn’t guess who the perpetrator was.

There was danger, intensity, and a sense of political conspiracies afoot, all of which made Say You’re Sorry a page turner for me. There was also a growing romantic connection between Morgan and Lance, which they tried to fight. I am eager to see what the two of them will do next, in Book Two. 5 stars.***

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REVIEW: THE BLACKBIRD SEASON, BY KATE MORETTI

In a quiet Pennsylvania town, a thousand dead starlings fall onto a high school baseball field, unleashing a horrifying and unexpected chain of events that will rock the close-knit community.

Beloved baseball coach and teacher Nate Winters and his wife, Alecia, are well respected throughout town. That is, until one of the many reporters investigating the bizarre bird phenomenon catches Nate embracing a wayward student, Lucia Hamm, in front of a sleazy motel. Lucia soon buoys the scandal by claiming that she and Nate are engaged in an affair, throwing the town into an uproar…and leaving Alecia to wonder if her husband has a second life.

And when Lucia suddenly disappears, the police only to have one suspect: Nate.

Nate’s coworker and sole supporter, Bridget Harris, Lucia’s creative writing teacher, is determined to prove his innocence. She has Lucia’s class journal, and while some of the entries appear particularly damning to Nate’s case, others just don’t add up. Bridget knows the key to Nate’s exoneration and the truth of Lucia’s disappearance lie within the walls of the school and in the pages of that journal.

My Thoughts: The alternating perspectives of Nate, Alecia, Bridget, Lucia…and others reeled me into The Blackbird Season, a dark tale that probes beneath the surface of small town life in Pennsylvania.

Could the golden boy Nate have crossed some lines while dealing with his students? Could his desire to help them have drawn him into a dark place? And what is behind his almost obsessive need to be liked by everyone?

As a result, I found myself not really liking Nate, who always seemed defensive and did not prioritize his family at all. However, there was also the possibility that more was hidden beneath the surface, and that others bore a great deal of responsibility for what happened to Lucia.

Bridget, of course, was his biggest supporter and the friendship that Alecia had once felt for her began to fizzle. How could Bridget blindly believe Nate when the evidence suggested otherwise?

And what was Lucia’s game? She seemed broken and who wouldn’t empathize? But her seductive, weird behavior bugged me. I don’t automatically believe the stories teenage girls tell. But it was also possible that some of what she said was true, even if there were lies and manipulations involved.

What would happen before the truth finally came out? I couldn’t stop reading, waiting for it all to unravel so we could see and understand. 5 stars.


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

REVIEW: LIES SHE TOLD, BY CATE HOLAHAN

 

The truth can be darker than fiction.

Liza Cole, a once-successful novelist whose career has seen better days, has one month to write the thriller that could land her back on the bestseller list. Meanwhile, she’s struggling to start a family, but her husband is distracted by the disappearance of his best friend, Nick. As stresses weigh her down in her professional and personal lives, Liza escapes into writing the chilling exploits of her latest heroine, Beth.

Beth, a new mother, suspects her husband is cheating on her while she’s home caring for their newborn. Angry and betrayed, she aims to catch him in the act and make him pay for shattering the illusion of their perfect life. But before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s tossing the body of her husband’s mistress into the East River.

Then, the lines between Liza’s fiction and her reality eerily blur. Nick’s body is dragged from the East River, and Liza’s husband is arrested for his murder. Before her deadline is up, Liza will have to face up to the truths about the people around her, including her own. If she doesn’t, the end of her heroine’s story could be the end of her own.

My Thoughts: In alternating narratives, we enter the worlds of Liza and Beth, and, at first, it seems as though Liza is simply creating a romantic suspense novel, even though she readily admits that her fiction is often based on composites of people and events in her own life. She says “to be a writer is to be a life thief. Every day, I rob myself blind.”

Sometimes events in her fictionalized world definitely mimic her life. She is worried about her marriage and she is on fertility drugs that render her emotional. And sometimes she has memory issues. Could she be mixing up events? Does her real life look too much like the fictional one? Could she have done something dreadful, and then forgotten about it?

It doesn’t help that both Liza’s husband David and fictional Beth’s husband Jake are liars…and probably cheaters. Or is everything skewed by Liza’s version of the truth?

I couldn’t stop reading Lies She Told. I loved going back and forth between the worlds of Liza and Beth, and trying to decide the truth of what had actually happened. Did David kill Nick, or has Liza done it and forgotten? Have all the actions she has attributed to Beth been her own? Is she even writing a book? Then we discover a buried secret from Liza’s childhood, one that definitely changes everything we thought we knew. An unputdownable book that earned 5 stars.

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

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: 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

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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.

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REVIEW: MY HUSBAND’S WIFE, BY JANE CORRY

 

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When young lawyer Lily marries Ed, she’s determined to make a fresh start. To leave the secrets of the past behind. But then she takes on her first murder case and meets Joe. A convicted murderer whom Lily is strangely drawn to. For whom she will soon be willing to risk almost anything.

But Lily is not the only one with secrets. Her next-door neighbor Carla may be only nine, but she has already learned that secrets are powerful things. That they can get her whatever she wants.

When Lily finds Carla on her doorstep sixteen years later, a chain of events is set in motion that can end only one way.

 
My Thoughts: Alternating narrators tell the story of My Husband’s Wife, a tale of so many flawed characters with secrets and lies that bind them together.

Lily was one I was rooting for, despite her painful and troubled past, most of which was revealed in bits and pieces…and then, finally, in greater depth at the end.

Carla was a child when we first met her, and I could feel a bit of sympathy for her, but the manipulative aspects of her personality overwhelmed me, and from then on, I was wary of her.

Joe Thomas was Lily’s first client, one she got off for murdering his fiancé. But life would throw some disconcerting curves her way as she came to realize more about him.

Ed, Lily’s husband, was despicable, in my opinion, as he loved controlling those around him, including and especially Lily, and when he showed so much disdain for her, I wanted bad things to happen to him. He did try to make amends at times, but I could not warm up to him at all.

What would ultimately allow some of these damaged characters to move on from the past? Would punishment help them do so?

A riveting and convoluted page turner that would finally bring a bit of clarity to this reader, while reminding us that we do not really know the people we love. 5 stars.

cropped again 5***

REVIEW: THE MARRIAGE LIE, BY KIMBERLY BELLE

 

 

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Iris and Will have been married for seven years, and life is as close to perfect as it can be. But on the morning Will flies out for a business trip to Florida, Iris’s happy world comes to an abrupt halt: another plane headed for Seattle has crashed into a field, killing everyone on board and, according to the airline, Will was one of the passengers. 

Grief stricken and confused, Iris is convinced it all must be a huge misunderstanding. Why did Will lie about where he was going? And what else has he lied about? As Iris sets off on a desperate quest to uncover what her husband was keeping from her, the answers she finds shock her to her very core.

My Thoughts: I was immediately caught up in the relationship between Iris and Will: the special moments between them, the stories of how they met and fell in love, and their plans for the future. I wanted that happily-ever-after for them.

Happy moments seem to always signal that events are about to go awry in a big way, so with the news of the plane crash, and how Will had lied about where he was going, I knew I would be waiting with bated breath, wondering what would be unveiled next.

There were characters to be suspicious about, just because of how “too good to be true” they seemed, like Will’s so-called best gym buddy, Corban Hayes. Smooth, handsome, and helpful. What’s not to like? Well, just the fact that he seems too perfect. Just like Will did before the lies started to unfold.

I couldn’t stop turning the pages, wondering what would happen next. Could we trust anybody? Well, Iris’s twin brother Dave seemed to be true blue, and it was great to read the banter between them, the “twin talk” that felt real.

Iris’s parents were wonderful and supportive. Then there was Evan, an attorney, whose wife and daughter were killed in the crash. He would have to be one of the good guys. Right?

The trouble with finding out about lies and secrets…it is hard to trust anybody. Would Iris find the answers she needed? Would the trail of mysterious texts she is receiving lead to answers? What does some missing money from the company where Will worked mean about him and about his associates?

Until the very end of The Marriage Lie, I kept going back and forth in my mind about where the road would lead us, but the journey turned out to be even better than I had imagined. A final tidbit took me to an interesting place. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

REVIEW: THE GOOD GOODBYE, BY CARLA BUCKLEY

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Rory and Arden Falcone have been inseparable since their birth, and despite the fact that they are just cousins, they could almost be twins. They look enough alike to be mistaken for each other.

 
Vince and Gabrielle are Rory’s parents, while Vince’s brother Theo, and his wife Natalie, are Arden’s.

Their connection is further enhanced by the partnership between Vince and Natalie in the restaurant they own.

But all is not perfect with the Falcones, and when Rory and Arden go off to college together, and even become roommates, could they all be too close for comfort?

The dynamics between Rory and Arden become more intense at college, with Rory as the leader and Arden, following along. But Rory has always been the confident one, spoiled and entitled, while Arden is quiet, perceptive, and artistic. Why is Rory able to control Arden? Why does Arden so willingly go along with Rory’s demands?

Then at home, there is trouble, as Vince’s poor investment puts the restaurant at risk.

It all comes to a head one terrible night when a fire in the dorm room puts Rory and Arden in the hospital fighting for their lives, while a friend, Hunter, is dead.

The Good Goodbye was intense and mysterious, and following the alternate narratives of Natalie, Rory, and Arden, we slowly begin to fill in the blanks of the past, present, and the moments in the hospital when the girls hang between life and death. We come to see that none of them are who we thought, especially Gabrielle, whose dark side comes to the foreground. I definitely could not put this book down, and even when I thought I had it all figured out, I was stunned by what developed. Recommended for all who enjoy a family drama, as well as fans of the author. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE PAYING GUESTS, BY SARAH WATERS

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It is 1922, and times are tough for the residents of this formerly well-off village of Camberwell, in England. A Champion Hill estate was once a place to celebrate, with hired help taken for granted.

But now, Frances Wray and her aging mother Emily are struggling, and despite the embarrassment, they decide to take in boarders.

I could feel the squeamishness of Frances as she and her mother greet Len and Lilian Barber, from the “clerk” class, and in the subsequent days, I could relate to her irritation with their behaviors (Len is loud, with a tendency toward suggestive innuendo), and Lilian seems spoiled (taking long baths in the middle of the day).

Slowly The Paying Guests unfolds, and we gradually come to see a slight shift. When did it happen? When was Frances first drawn to Lilian? And how did she succumb to long-forgotten passions?

Secrets, lies, and horrifying danger cloud the pages and reveal much. Everything speeds up quickly after something terrible happens, and we are left wondering if the dangerous secrets that Frances and Lilian share will cause their lives to unravel. Did Lilian have a hidden motive all along? Was Frances her prey? Or is there more to the story?

The ending brought about few surprises, and left things up in the air for some of the characters. I loved how the writer captured my interest and kept me turning those pages. Recommended for all who enjoy stories about secrets, lies, and betrayal. 5.0 stars.