REVIEW: WHAT’S BECOME OF HER, BY DEB CALETTI

 

“Guilty people keep secrets.”

Isabelle Austen returns to her hometown on a small, isolated Pacific Northwest island to take over the family tourism business after the death of her mother, a disapproving parent and a hard woman to love. Feeling lost, Isabelle is also struggling with a recent divorce and wondering if she’ll ever come into her own. Then her life takes a surprising turn: The mysterious Henry North arrives on Parrish Island, steps off a seaplane, and changes Isabelle’s world forever.

From the beginning, their relationship is heady and intense—then Isabelle learns of Henry’s disturbing past, involving the death of a fiancée and the disappearance of a wife. Suddenly Isabelle is caught between love and suspicion, paranoia and passion, as she searches for the truth she may not want to find—and is swept into a dangerous game she may not survive.


MY THOUGHTS:
What’s Become of Her is alternately narrated by Isabelle and a stranger named Professor Weary, who has no personal interaction with her, but from afar, seems to be keeping an eye on her.Henry’s past, full of unanswered questions and mysteries, all point to the possibility of something dark and dangerous about him, and his secrets and lies raised a huge red flag that had me wanting to shout at Isabelle: Run!

But Henry was one of those men who can be so charming, and he did kind and loving things for her. Then something aroused his rage, usually as the result of his bruised ego, at which point, his “poor me” attitude reared its head, even as he turned frightening.

Why did Isabelle put up with him? Everyone who knew her kept warning her off, but she focused instead on the strange packages she kept receiving from someone, and even though each object hinted of bad acts by Henry, she kept hanging in there.

Even though I was turned off by Henry, and hoped Isabelle would make better choices, I wondered if I could be wrong about him. Could others, like Weary, be persecuting him, and would we discover that the real bad guys were out there, watching and waiting?

The beautiful setting on an island near Seattle kept me engaged, even though parts of the story were slow and even boring (Weary’s narratives). But I kept turning the pages, wondering what I would ultimately learn and what Isabelle would do about her precarious situation. What she did came as a complete surprise, and I wanted to celebrate. 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: HOW WILL I KNOW YOU?, BY JESSICA TREADWAY

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On a cold December day, the body of high school senior Joy Enright is discovered in the woods at the edge of a frozen pond. Her death looks like a tragic drowning accident at first, but an autopsy reveals something sinister — the teenager’s body shows unmistakable signs of strangulation. The discovery upends an otherwise uneventful small town, as police grapple with a rare homicide case and those closest to Joy wonder how she could have been taken from them — and by whom. Susanne, Joy’s mother, tries to reconcile past betrayals with their wrenching consequences. Martin, an African-American graduate student, faces ostracism when blame is cast on him. Tom, a rescue diver and son-in-law of the town’s police chief, doubts both the police’s methods and his own perceptions. And Harper, Joy’s best friend, tries to figure out why she disappeared from Harper’s life months before she actually went missing.

In a close-knit community where everyone knows someone else’s secret, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is exposed. In this gripping novel, author Jessica Treadway explores the ways in which families both thrive and falter, and how seemingly small bad choices can escalate—with fatal consequences.

 

My Thoughts:  In small town life, it is hard to keep secrets, despite the efforts of the rich and powerful to hold onto their own.

How Will I Know You? is a story that unfolds in unexpected ways. We follow the lives of Doug Armstrong, a cop who is determined to insure his position as permanent Chief of Police; a teenager, Joy Enright, desperate to help her family finances and reduce conflicts; another teenager, Harper Grove, caught up in the ordinary struggles of life, when the inability to win friends seems too much to handle; and finally, we watch the grown-ups, like Susanne Enright and Martin Willett, or Tom and Allison Carbone, make bad choices and then try to dig themselves out of the consequences. All of these moments set up the drama that unfolds during one winter when a confluence of bad choices takes them all too far and a life is lost.

Multiple narrators show us the before and after moments, gradually revealing bits and pieces of lives in a downward spiral. On the surface, the characters seemed very sure that they could turn things around, dig out of their individual holes, and make everything right again. As they grow increasingly desperate, we are reminded that sometimes, “if you have gone too far, then you cannot go back again.”

A thoroughly engaging novel that could have benefited from a “less is more” approach did keep me captivated until the final page. 4.5 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

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

 

my-husbands-wife

 

 

 

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.

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REVIEW: THE BAD THINGS, BY MARY-JANE RILEY

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Alex Devlin’s life changed forever fifteen years ago when her sister Sasha’s two small children were snatched in broad daylight. Little Harry’s body was found a few days later, but Millie’s remains were never discovered.

Now Jackie Wood, jailed as an accessory to the twins’ murder, has been released, her conviction quashed by the Appeal Court. Convinced Jackie can reveal where Millie is buried, Alex goes to meet her.

But the unexpected information Wood reveals shocks Alex to the core and threatens to uncover the dark secret she has managed to keep under wraps for the past fifteen years. Because in the end, can we ever really know what is in the hearts of those closest to us?

 
My Thoughts: The Bad Things alternates between the perspectives of Alex Devlin, a journalist whose niece and nephew were kidnapped and murdered, and DI Kate Todd, who worked the case back then.

Now, fifteen years later, we see Alex trying to find out from Jackie Wood where Millie was buried, and also hoping to ward off the discovery of her long-buried secret. If she could uncover the location of a specific object from Jackie Wood, she might be able to contain her shame.

But nothing is coming together in quite the way Alex hoped, and another murder will add to the puzzling elements of the case, leading Alex, the cops, and other journalists down all the wrong pathways.

Sasha, the mother of the deceased children, was a very disturbed character, and I was suspicious of her from the beginning. The stories Alex shared about their childhoods added to the picture of her as a self-absorbed woman capable of anything, and someone who also used her “victim” role to keep everyone at bay. Who would dare to probe beneath the surface of this wounded creature?

Finding the truth was definitely circumvented by numerous corrupt individuals, both family members and police, who would do anything to keep everyone in the dark.

Even when we thought we had most of the answers to our questions, another narrator at the end of the book brought a final revelation. 4.0 stars.

ratings worms 4-cropped***

REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10, BY RUTH WARE

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When Laura (Lo) Blacklock’s basement apartment is broken into, while she is there, she is frightened for her life. But when the intruder finally leaves, and all she has lost is her handbag and its contents, including her phone, she should be grateful. But she is terrified, claustrophobic, and shaky.

So why would she agree to go on a cruise for her magazine, Velocity? A cruise might be the last place someone like her would go. But she does.

Her boyfriend Judah is headed to Moscow for his work, but he is not sure she should go either. Set in London, the story takes us next to the ship.

The Aurora Borealis is on its maiden voyage, headed to the Northern Lights…and it is a beautiful, yet very small ship. Activities are planned for every moment of each day…but Lo is still having trouble sleeping. So it is not surprising that she awakens quickly when she hears a sound…like a big splash, followed by a scream.

But none of the crew are giving her any credibility when she tells her tale, not even when she says that earlier she had met a woman in Cabin 10, and had borrowed some mascara. She even shows them the wand. Nilsson, the captain’s assistant, who insists that there is no guest in Cabin 10 and there never has been, seems especially condescending, suggesting she might have been drunk…and then mentioning the medications she is on. How does he know?

The Woman in Cabin 10 was a riveting tale that kept me hanging on by a thread as it catapulted from one strange event to another. Narrated in Lo’s first person voice, we see the other passengers from her perspective. They all seemed untrustworthy, including the owners, Lord and Lady Bullmer. Anne Bulmer looked like she was on death’s door, and apparently was a cancer patient. Richard Bullmer was especially gregarious, but that would not be unusual. Yet at this point, everyone seems suspicious.

Others include people Lo has met before, like Ben Howard and Tina West. Ben was a former lover, years ago, so she doesn’t think she can really trust him. Tina has a reputation for pushing her way to the top.

Throughout the tale, we suspect everyone on the ship, and then, as stranger events unfold, we are not sure that Lo is going to survive.

An alternate narration includes e-mails and news accounts suggesting something going on behind the scenes back in London, something that does not bode well for Lo.

The denouement, followed by an unexpected tidbit at the end, was stunning…and left me feeling that I could finally let out the breath I had been holding. 5 stars.

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