REVIEW: SOPHIE LAST SEEN, BY MARLENE ADELSTEIN

 

Six years ago, ten-year-old Sophie Albright disappeared from a shopping mall. Her mother, Jesse, is left in a self-destructive limbo, haunted by memories of her intense and difficult child, who was obsessed with birds. Trapped in her grief and guilt, Jesse stumbles through her workdays at a bookstore and spends her off hours poring over Sophie’s bird journals or haunting the mall to search for the face of her missing child.

When Star Silverman, Sophie’s best friend, starts working at the bookstore, Jesse is uncomfortable around the sarcastic teen, who is a constant reminder of her daughter. But Star has secrets of her own, and her childhood memories could be the key to solving Sophie’s disappearance.

With help from Star and Kentucky “Tuck” Barnes, a private detective on the trail of another missing girl, Jesse may finally get some closure, one way or the other.

My Thoughts: From the first pages of Sophie Last Seen, I was caught up in the emotional life of her bereft mother, Jesse. Sadly, the town has now stopped caring about Jesse and her loss, and the isolation she feels drives her to make even more bad choices.

Men, alcohol, and her hoarding of items that seem to be messages from Sophie keep Jesse slightly off-center. Her ex-husband is pushing her to sell the house, but she can’t imagine giving up Sophie’s home or even packing away all the precious objects that are reminders.

But there are more secrets that slowly come to the surface, and Jesse will have to confront what is really keeping her captive in the past and in her grief. Star is another one with dark secrets. Will she finally share them? Will answers come to both of them?

How Sophie’s notebooks and the birding connection led the characters to answers kept me intrigued throughout. There was also a mystical undercurrent that brought hidden dimensions and the ability to move on. 5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: EMILY, ALONE, BY STEWART O’NAN

 

A sequel to the bestselling, much-beloved Wish You Were Here, Stewart O’Nan’s intimate new novel follows Emily Maxwell, a widow whose grown children have long moved away. She dreams of visits by her grandchildren while mourning the turnover of her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood, but when her sole companion and sister-in-law Arlene faints at their favorite breakfast buffet, Emily’s days change. As she grapples with her new independence, she discovers a hidden strength and realizes that life always offers new possibilities. Like most older women, Emily is a familiar yet invisible figure, one rarely portrayed so honestly. Her mingled feelings—of pride and regret, joy and sorrow— are gracefully rendered in wholly unexpected ways. Once again making the ordinary and overlooked not merely visible but vital to understanding our own lives, Emily, Alone confirms O’Nan as an American master.

 

My Thoughts: As the years pass, people begin to settle into their routines, expecting little else except loss and the passage of time. But the characters in Emily, Alone, especially Emily herself, show us that each day can bring new life and new experiences.

Emily and her sister-in-law Arlene have their established routines: lunch on Tuesday at the diner, with their coupon. Occasional walks and visits to art museums. Looking ahead to the holidays. On one such day at the diner, however, Arlene has an episode that leads to hospitalization, and Emily’s routines are shaken to the core. She has to start driving again so she can visit Arlene and bring things to her. She varies her days, and even in the exhaustion of it all, there is something rejuvenating.

The holidays bring reminders of the family conflicts and issues, but with her new lease on life, Emily finds ways to enjoy the moments. And even with each loss, she realizes that each new day is a gift.

I liked how she enjoyed each day, even after some extra challenges, including aches, pains, and illnesses. Her dog Rufus was her steady companion and added an extra something to the story.

The inevitability of death follows each day, but so does the bliss of new possibilities with the dawn. The story was slow, but in that savoring kind of pace that I love now and then. As we followed the seasons, the holidays, and the measured routines of each day, the passage of time brought something new and inspirational, even as the end also loomed. By the conclusion, I felt as though Emily was a friend I would never forget.

***

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: IF I FORGET YOU, BY THOMAS CHRISTOPHER GREENE

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Twenty-one years after they were driven apart by circumstances beyond their control, two former lovers have a chance encounter on a Manhattan street. What follows is a tense, suspenseful exploration of the many facets of enduring love. Told from altering points of view through time, If I Forget You tells the story of Henry Gold, a poet whose rise from poverty embodies the American dream, and Margot Fuller, the daughter of a prominent, wealthy family, and their unlikely, star-crossed love affair, complete with the secrets they carry when they find each other for the second time.

My Thoughts: The alternating stories of Henry and Margot flipped between the present, with their chance encounter in 2012, to 1991, when the two of them fell in love.

They came from different worlds, and I love this kind of story. So much divided them that the chance of them meeting and connecting at all seems unlikely. And then the serendipitous meeting on the street is another moment in time that could have been fate.

How they were shockingly separated one summer night left indelible marks upon them. One might have expected that one of them would search for the other, their lost love. But each had their own reasons why they couldn’t do that.

Until that day in 2012 when they met on the street. And the pull of their intense connection stirred up feelings that had never left them.

They each have secrets to share, secrets that could bring another rift into their relationship. How will they move beyond the divide? What will ultimately bring them together again?

An engaging story that I could not put down. 5 stars.

cropped again 5***

REVIEW: A LONG TIME GONE, BY KAREN WHITE

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When Vivien Walker Moise returned to her childhood home in Indian Mound, Mississippi, she had been gone a long time. She brings with her a nine-year legacy of pain and loss, with emotional scarring that needs to heal. Can she find healing in this old yellow house? In LA, she has left behind her cruel ex-husband Mark, but she has also lost her step-daughter Chloe, whom she loves. Mark has taken out a restraining order to prevent contact between them. Vivien developed a pill habit, partially with Mark’s help, as he prescribed the pills, but he has used it all against her.

As she arrives back home, she sees a group of people standing around the old tree, and she finds out that a skeleton has been discovered beneath it. Who could it be? What secrets have been hidden here for all these years?

A Long Time Gone is a beautifully wrought story of family, of secrets, and about the pain that drives them away, and the strength within each of the women that keeps bringing them back home.

They have a long tradition of leaving, these women, starting back with Vivien’s great-grandmother. Her grandmother Bootsie also left for a few years; then her own daughter, Carole Lynne, Vivien’s mother, spent years going back and forth, like a boomerang. Now Carole Lynne is home to stay, but her memories are going. She has been diagnosed with dementia, but sometimes she seems almost normal. Will Vivien find the lost connection between them, finally?

Our story is narrated by three women whose stories weave together a rich tapestry of secrets and loss. Adelaide, whose story begins in the 1920s; Carole Lynne, whose time in the 60s and beyond was all about trying to rid herself of the pain of being without her own mother for years. And finally, Vivien’s story, and how she strives to make up for her own mistakes by taking on Chloe, who has run away from her father. With the help of her childhood best friend/boyfriend, Tripp Montgomery, she searches for the answers to some burning questions: who is the skeleton in the garden? What happened to the women in this family that made them keep leaving? And what finally brought most of them back home again?

The canvas is full of richly drawn characters, from those in the 1920s to the present. With each of them, we learn how the stories fit together, and we finally discover the answers. I loved this book, which earned 5 stars from me.

CURL UP WITH BOOK BEGINNINGS/FRIDAY 56 – “THE LIAR”

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Welcome to some bookish fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

If you have been wanting to participate, but haven’t yet tried, now is the time!

What better way to spend a Friday?

What fun it is to share excerpts from upcoming reads!  Mine today is from a book by Nora Roberts, The Liar.

 

 

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Beginning:  In the big house—and Shelby would always think of it as the big house—she sat in her husband’s big leather chair at his big important desk.  The color of the chair was espresso.  Not brown.  Richard had been very exact about that sort of thing.  The desk itself, so sleep and shiny, was African zebra wood, and custom-made for him in Italy.

***

56:  By noon she was winding, winding up through the green with her window half down so she could smell the mountains.  The pine, the rivers and streams.  Here there was no snow.

***

Blurb:  The extraordinary new novel by the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Collector.

Shelby Foxworth lost her husband. Then she lost her illusions …

The man who took her from Tennessee to an exclusive Philadelphia suburb left her in crippling debt. He was an adulterer and a liar, and when Shelby tracks down his safe-deposit box, she finds multiple IDs. The man she loved wasn’t just dead. He never really existed.

Shelby takes her three-year-old daughter and heads south to seek comfort in her hometown, where she meets someone new: Griff Lott, a successful contractor. But her husband had secrets she has yet to discover. Even in this small town, surrounded by loved ones, danger is closer than she knows—and threatens Griff, as well. And an attempted murder is only the beginning …

***

What do you think?  Do the excerpts pique your interest?  I know I am eager to plunge into this one.

***

REVIEW: CANCEL THE WEDDING, BY CAROLYN DINGMAN

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One year after the death of their mother, Janie Hughes, her grown daughters, Georgia and Olivia, are planning to carry out her final wishes: scattering her ashes in two designated spots in the small town of Huntley, Georgia, where she spent her childhood.

Neither of them understand this request, nor do they know why their mother never told them anything about her childhood. So Olivia, feeling the need for escape because of some issues with her fiancé Leo, decides to drive down there and scout things out. Learn a little about their mother. Georgia’s fourteen-year-old daughter Logan goes with her.

From the moment they arrive, they discover numerous unsettling facts, including the major one of Huntley no longer existing, as it was inundated by a flood and is now buried under water.

One of the first people they meet is Elliott Tate, who runs the newspaper and is eager for a story. He volunteers his assistance as Olivia and Logan sort through archives, records, and plat maps, trying to discover Janie’s mysterious past.

What totally unexpected events will they uncover? How will the secrets of the past change the course of Olivia’s life? And how will her growing attraction to Elliott, at a time when she is desperately searching for a way to end her relationship with Leo, turn everything upside down for her? And what stunning last surprise discovery will cement the bonds between them all, as they finally bring the past to a satisfactory conclusion?

Cancel the Wedding: A Novel was a story that did not engage me right away, but once it did, I could not stop turning those pages, as each page brought new and delightful treasures. I enjoyed the characters like Olivia, Elliott, and Logan, but felt that Georgia was too judgmental and critical. Leo was overly controlling and I disliked him immediately. At the end, Georgia and Leo redeemed themselves a bit. A story with a lot of mystery, some romance, and a gloriously satisfying ending, I offer this book 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: LEAVING TIME, BY JODI PICOULT

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When Jenna Metcalf was three years old, her mother Alice disappeared from the elephant sanctuary where she lived and worked.Now ten years later, she is desperate for answers, but where can she turn? Her grandmother, with whom she lives, never has tried to find Alice, or to find answers. She seems almost uncaring as she goes about her detached, distant life.So when Jenna decides to contact a psychic, she stumbles upon one Serenity Jones, a has-been who hasn’t solved a case in years. A hack that takes money and gives easy answers that she finds through a series of clues she gleans from the clients. She believes that she has lost her powers.

But Serenity has a good heart, and soon she and Jenna are seeking out Virgil Stanhope, who worked on the case back then.

Finding him is not that easy, as he has changed his name and left the department.

But persistence pays off and now the trio of seekers are looking for answers. What the police knew at the time of the “accident” was that one woman was killed, possibly trampled by an elephant, and another was taken to the hospital, without ID. That woman disappeared, and presumably was Alice.

Leaving Time: A Novel is narrated alternately by Jenna, Virgil, Serenity, and even Alice, moving seamlessly between the past and the present. What we learn from Alice’s voice is how she met Thomas, Jenna’s father, when he visited the elephant reserve in Botswana where she was researching grieving in elephants. After discovering her pregnancy, she joined him at his elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire.

Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle form a clearer picture of life for Alice and Thomas, from the beginning to the mental health issues, the abuse, and ultimately, one tragic night when everything changed. But will Jenna and her helpers find out what really happened? Will a trip to Tennessee help fill in the blanks?

Just when I thought that I had everything figured out, it all turned upside down and nothing was as it seemed. What was real and what wasn’t? How would everything finally fall into place? A mesmerizing story that took a very dramatic turn kept me rapidly turning the pages, waiting to find the answers. 5.0 stars.


REVIEW: EVERGREEN, BY REBECCA RASMUSSEN

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They were two people wanting a quiet life. So when Emil and Eveline moved to Evergreen, Minnesota, to start their married life together, they were prepared for the challenges of living in the forest. But what would separate them and keep them apart for too long would come unexpectedly and would change everything. Their story began in 1938.

After the birth of their son Hux came the news of Emil’s father’s illness. Emil’s departure to Germany would come at a time when wars were heating up, and leaving Germany would become an impossibility. Time passed, and while her husband was away, Eveline somehow managed, with the help of neighbors.

Until one day when a visitor came and took from Eveline something that would leave her powerless to change the consequences.

After an untenable decision changes lives, the story leaps ahead to 1954…and then again to 1961, with Hux an adult seeking his lost sister Naamah. In the end, the year is 1972, and while many separations have come and gone, there is a bond that links them all.

What happened to them all is revealed through the pages in a tale that sweeps across time and generations.

The emotional impact of Eveline’s decision would have an effect on all of their lives, but the reader only sees the after-effects in others. Without a look into her mind and heart, or seeing how Emil reacted to what she’d done left me struggling to make sense of the missing pieces of Emil and Eveline’s story. Leaping ahead across time left this reader with a disjointed feeling. A sad feeling of missed opportunities for healing. But then, finally, as Evergreen: A novel drew to a close, there was one recurring theme: mothers and children, separated, could be reunited, as if the past no longer defined them. 4.0 stars.

Review: The Headmaster’s Wife, by Thomas Christopher Greene

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At the heart of The Headmaster’s Wife is the role family, tradition, and expectations play in the unfolding of our lives.

For generations, the Winthrop patriarchs have been headmaster of this small prep school in Vermont. Lancaster is steeped in its proud traditions, and almost as if there is no choice in the matter, the roles are passed down from father to son.

Arthur Winthrop and his wife Elizabeth are living in the lovely and welcoming home provided for the headmaster, and their lives are set in certain ways. Their routines mark their days.

But as our story opens, in a section called Acrimony, Arthur is narrating in his first person voice, and what we are learning seems incredible. The tale alternates between Arthur’s version and a third person account that seems to be taking place in a Manhattan police station.

Before we can even sense the accuracy of what occurs, we are brought into the section called Expectations, and Elizabeth’s perspective is revealed.

Was their destiny set for them because of their choices? Or were the traditions and expectations of others responsible for what transpired for the characters? How do grief and the frightening events of the 21st Century affect Arthur and Elizabeth as their lives seemingly implode?

In the end, in the section called After, some more revelations and mysteries of the past are resolved, and there is a hopeful aura that surrounds the characters.

This story was difficult to review, as so many potential spoilers lurk around every corner. Suffice it to say that whatever you thought might happen, you will be surprised. I think that I will recall and reflect on these events and these characters for a long while. 5 stars.