REVIEW: THE HIGH TIDE CLUB, BY MARY KAY ANDREWS

 

When ninety-nine-year-old heiress Josephine Bettendorf Warrick summons Brooke Trappnell to Talisa Island, her 20,000 acre remote barrier island home, Brooke is puzzled. Everybody in the South has heard about the eccentric millionaire mistress of Talisa, but Brooke has never met her. Josephine’s cryptic note says she wants to discuss an important legal matter with Brooke, who is an attorney, but Brooke knows that Mrs. Warrick has long been a client of a prestigious Atlanta law firm.

Over a few meetings, the ailing Josephine spins a tale of old friendships, secrets, betrayal and a long-unsolved murder. She tells Brooke she is hiring her for two reasons: to protect her island and legacy from those who would despoil her land, and secondly, to help her make amends with the heirs of the long dead women who were her closest friends, the girls of The High Tide Club—so named because of their youthful skinny dipping escapades—Millie, Ruth and Varina. When Josephine dies with her secrets intact, Brooke is charged with contacting Josephine’s friends’ descendants and bringing them together on Talisa for a reunion of women who’ve actually never met.

My Thoughts: The High Tide Club is a book about friendships, secrets, and the things that happen to tear friends apart.

Brooke, a young lawyer who left a practice in Savannah to set up her own office in St. Ann’s, is struggling to raise her three-year-old son; she has secrets of her own, and keeps them close. When she gets the call from Josephine, she is reluctant to get involved. Especially when she realizes that one of Josephine’s old friends was her own grandmother.

The story goes back and forth in time, with narrators in the 1940s and in the present. Just when Josephine finally has some of the descendants of her old friends around her, telling her story, she dies unexpectedly. Although at ninety-nine, with a terminal illness, it could have happened at any time.

Because of her ill health and age, Josephine’s story unfolded very slowly, in bits and pieces, which frustrated the listeners. If only she had held on one more day!

How did the skinny dipping and occasional pranks change into big secrets and mysteries? What really happened back then? With Josephine gone, how would the rest of the story unfold? How does the discovery of old letters add to the mystery?

I enjoyed the characters and with each turn of a page, I was eager to find out what really happened. So many unexpected twists came at them, and none of the descendants could have seen any of them coming. 4.5 stars.


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

REVIEW: THE GIRLS IN THE GARDEN, BY LISA JEWELL

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Clare Wild and her two daughters, Grace and Pip, had landed in the Virginia Park area of London following the tragic fire that burned their home down. The fire was set by her mentally ill husband Chris. Now with her husband tucked away in a psychiatric hospital, Clare is on her own.

Almost immediately, Clare and her girls are thrust into the communal nature of the area, welcomed by Adele, an earth mother type who homeschools her three daughters, and includes everyone in parties and barbecues. Clare is reluctant, but she complies.

Adele and Leo’s three daughters seem a little wild to Clare: Catkin, the oldest, has dreadlocks in her hair; Fern, the middle daughter, is obsessive and constantly clutches a satin comforter; and Willow is in constant motion, physically and verbally.

A group of the teenagers has already formed, one that includes a boy named Dylan and another strange and somewhat mean girl named Tyler. But if Grace and Pip do not join in, who will they hang out with? So they become part of the wild and crazy “gang,” participating in a free-for-all with nobody governing their behavior, as nobody seemed worried about their activities.

The Girls in the Garden was narrated by multiple voices, including Clare, Pip, and Adele, among others. Secrets from the past surface during those months spent in the communal garden, and when something tragic happens to Grace, there will be many questions, as well as flashes back to what happened years before. A death that was never solved.

Did one of the girls do something to Grace? Or could Leo or even his strange father Gordon have been responsible? Why is the somewhat disturbed girl Tyler the first one everyone thinks of when talking about events? Finally, though, why is Grace not pointing her finger at anyone or telling a different version, other than “it just happened”?

In the end, the reader must draw her own conclusions, or continue to ponder the mysteries. Definitely a book for those who enjoy secrets, mysteries, and the puzzling dynamics of group behavior. 5 stars.

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

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.

LIVES UPENDED IN THE AFTERMATH OF TRAGEDY — A REVIEW

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Twenty-five years after her fifteen-year-old brother Ben supposedly murdered her mother and two sisters, Libby Day is struggling and at a point in her life when she must find a way to bring money into the coffers. The fund that sustained her after the tragedies has dried up, and Libby flails about, seeking a solution.

And what she finds is a group of individuals devoted to proving her brother was innocent–and willing to pay for mementos and information.

Libby was seven years old when the murders happened, and the only survivor. Her testimony put her brother behind bars, but now she is wondering if things happened the way she believed it did. She reexamines the “darkplaces” to figure things out. And starts meeting with people to find out more, too. She also dreams about the events, with different scenarios each time. And she recalls how life as the orphan has changed everything for her, too.

The setting is a Kansas farm in a small town filled with gossipy, mean-spirited individuals seemingly bent on shunning the Day family long before the tragedy struck.

In alternating narratives, Dark Places: A Novel takes us back to 1985, to learn bits and pieces of that fateful day from the mother, Patty Day, and from Ben, the alleged perpetrator. As more is revealed, we begin to have our own doubts…and as we follow Libby’s first-person narration in the present, watching her accumulate data, the questions begin to grow until we wonder if there will ever be any definitive answers.

All of the characters are flawed individuals, but beneath the surface of each, there is a hint of how they could be redeemed. If only…

What mysterious person did Patty Day meet that night? Why is Ben so secretive about the events, and why is he denying having a girlfriend named Diondra? What, if anything, did his friend Trey have to do with the tragic events?

Like a tornado sweeping across the flatlands, the events come full circle until finally the reader knows it all. And there were definitely some surprises. Another unputdownable read from Gillian Flynn. Five stars.