REVIEW: THEN SHE WAS GONE, BY LISA JEWELL

 

Ten years after her teenage daughter disappears, a woman crosses paths with a charming single father whose young child feels eerily familiar, in this evocative, suspenseful drama from New York Times bestselling author Lisa Jewell—perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Liane Moriarty.

Ellie Mack was the perfect daughter. She was fifteen, the youngest of three. She was beloved by her parents, friends, and teachers. She and her boyfriend made a teenaged golden couple. She was days away from an idyllic post-exams summer vacation, with her whole life ahead of her.

And then she was gone.

Now, her mother Laurel Mack is trying to put her life back together. It’s been ten years since her daughter disappeared, seven years since her marriage ended, and only months since the last clue in Ellie’s case was unearthed. So when she meets an unexpectedly charming man in a café, no one is more surprised than Laurel at how quickly their flirtation develops into something deeper. Before she knows it, she’s meeting Floyd’s daughters—and his youngest, Poppy, takes Laurel’s breath away.

Because looking at Poppy is like looking at Ellie. And now, the unanswered questions she’s tried so hard to put to rest begin to haunt Laurel anew. Where did Ellie go? Did she really run away from home, as the police have long suspected, or was there a more sinister reason for her disappearance? Who is Floyd, really? And why does his daughter remind Laurel so viscerally of her own missing girl?


My Thoughts: The characters, the story, and the mysterious circumstances of Then She Was Gone drew me in, taking me to places I could not have imagined.

After Laurel Mack meets a handsome stranger named Floyd Dunn, she is swept up into a feeling of belonging, a sense of family. But there is something so surreal about Floyd’s nine-year-old daughter Poppy. She cannot help but feel a special connection to her.

As Laurel quickly becomes enmeshed in his world and in his family, she begins to feel uneasy. Why did Floyd reel her in so quickly? What is going on in his mind? She senses something about the way Floyd behaves with Poppy, something that raises those red flags. Why did he always give in to her demands? Why does he treat her like an adult, allowing her control over many aspects of their lives?

In alternating narratives, we learn more about Poppy, and about her mother Noelle Donnelly, who had abandoned her when she was very young; through Ellie’s first person narrative, we realize what had happened to her. And finally, we learn the secrets Floyd is hiding. A book I couldn’t put down. 5 stars.

***
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REVIEW: KEEP HER SAFE, BY SOPHIE HANNAH

 

Pushed to the breaking point, Cara Burrows flees her home and family and escapes to a five-star spa resort she can’t afford. Late at night, exhausted and desperate, she lets herself into her hotel room and is shocked to find it already occupied — by a man and a teenage girl.

A simple mistake at the front desk… but soon Cara realizes that the girl she saw alive and well in the hotel room is someone she can’t possibly have seen: the most famous murder victim in the country, Melody Chapa, whose parents are serving natural life sentences for her murder.

Cara doesn’t know what to trust — everything she’s read and heard about the case, or the evidence of her own eyes. Did she really see Melody? And is she prepared to ask herself that question and answer it honestly if it means risking her own life?

My Thoughts: The opening lines of Keep Her Safe reveal another narrator, someone who seems to be Melody Chapa…and then we are thrust into the perspective of Cara Burrows, a British woman who fled her home for some unknown reason, and who is looking forward to her time at the Swallowtail Resort and Spa in Arizona. The place is huge and guests push a white button to get a car to take them around. But on the first night, Cara is given a room number and a key and insists on walking to her destination.

What does she find on the third floor when she unlocks the door? Evidence of occupancy, and then the crying voice of a girl, followed by a man’s voice. The girl is upset over spilling something on her stuffed toy Poggy. Embarrassed and apologetic, Cara scurries from the room, and the management upgrades her to a casita with a private pool and wonderful amenities. She is also given an iPad to guide her through her days.

What is going on in this strange spa? The receptionist, a woman named Riyonna Briggs, is trying to calm down an elderly woman who insists she saw “Melody.” Later, that same staff member assures Cara that the woman always sees Melody, wherever she goes, and is confused.

As the pages turn, we watch Cara studying the guests and listening to a woman named Tarin Fry and her daughter Zellie, who annoy her, but also pique her curiosity. Soon she is reading a blog that Tarin mentioned, written by a woman named Bonnie…and learns about Melody’s case and how her parents are in prison for killing her. She also begins to connect the dots, and realizes that there was something odd about the man and girl in that first room.

Nothing is the way it seems, as we soon find out. Numerous oddities keep us wondering, even as we realize that danger lurks around every corner. How does Cara find herself right in the middle of what looks like a conspiracy, wondering if she will ever see her family again? Will she put together the clues and find her way home again? A captivating 5 star read with so many twists that I could not stop reading.***

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.***

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: HOME, BY HARLAN COBEN

A decade ago, kidnappers grabbed two boys from wealthy families and demanded ransom, then went silent. No trace of the boys ever surfaced. For ten years their families have been left with nothing but painful memories and a quiet desperation for the day that has finally, miraculously arrived: Myron Bolitar and his friend Win believe they have located one of the boys, now a teenager. Where has he been for ten years, and what does he know about the day, more than half a life ago, when he was taken? And most critically: What can he tell Myron and Win about the fate of his missing friend? Drawing on his singular talent, Harlan Coben delivers an explosive and deeply moving thriller about friendship, family, and the meaning of home.

My Thoughts: From the first page, Home captures the reader. Win is in London and, following up on an anonymous e-mail, stumbles upon a situation involving a teenage boy who may be Patrick Moore. In his inimitable fashion, he attacks the men with the boy, but then the boy disappears. He calls upon Myron’s help back in the states, who quickly joins him.

How the two men finally catch up with the boy again and “rescue” him kept me enthralled, even though I don’t usually enjoy the antics of guys wanting to show their machismo.

For the rest of the story, we alternate between Win and Myron’s narratives, and we are back and forth between Europe and the states. There are meetings with the parents, whose behavior seems strange in light of recent developments. Why are Patrick’s parents so determined to keep him away from everyone? Why haven’t they done a DNA test? How does Patrick seem to be so up-to-date with contemporary life? Where is Rhys?

Finding the answers kept me turning pages, as even when parts of the story were less interesting to me, I did want to know what had happened, and whether or not Patrick was really the boy who had been kidnapped. By the end, the twists and turns that brought us to resolution reminded me of what Myron and Win always said: Sometimes you have to start at the beginning to figure out the truth. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR, BY HALLIE EPHRON

 

Seven-year-old Lissie Woodham and her four-year-old sister Janey were playing with their porcelain dolls in the front yard when an adorable puppy scampered by. Eager to pet the pretty dog, Lissie chased after the pup as it ran down the street. When she returned to the yard, Janey’s precious doll was gone . . . and so was Janey.

Forty years after Janey went missing, Lis—now a mother with a college-age daughter of her own—still blames herself for what happened. Every year on the anniversary of her sister’s disappearance, their mother, Miss Sorrel, places a classified ad in the local paper with a picture of the toy Janey had with her that day—a one-of-a-kind porcelain doll—offering a generous cash reward for its return. For years, there’s been no response. But this year, the doll came home.

It is the first clue in a decades-old mystery that is about to turn into something far more sinister—endangering Lis and the lives of her mother and daughter as well. Someone knows the truth about what happened all those years ago, and is desperate to keep it hidden.

 

My Thoughts: In the opening pages of You’ll Never Know, Dear, we meet Lis’s daughter Vanessa, living in Rhode Island and working on post-doctoral sleep studies. One morning, she is awakened by a vision of her grandmother, Miss Sorrel, holding a doll out to her. Soon after, a phone call summons her home to Bonsecours, South Carolina. Her mother and grandmother have been hospitalized due to an explosion at the house. Carbon monoxide poisoning keeps her grandmother hospitalized for a while. But her grandmother insists that the doll is the one she made for Janey.

Once she is home, Vanessa is drawn into the search for the strange doll that might be Janey’s…but busybody neighbor Evelyn, who works with Miss Sorrel on the doll repairs, is sure that the doll is not the right one.

A search leads Vanessa to the woman who brought the doll, who had disappeared when Miss Sorrel asked her where she got the doll…and from there, we follow some twisty pathways to unexpected answers.

Why is the doll that Miss Sorrel first saw now different? Was Miss Sorrel seeing things, or had someone switched the dolls? What happened to all the other dolls the night of the explosion? Were they stolen, and by whom? Why does every path that seems the right one suddenly become even more twisted?

The characters drew me in, and I was captivated by the quest for answers. There were characters that seemed very suspicious to me. Why did they seem to be everywhere and always keeping Vanessa and Lis from the answers? I had my eye on one particular character, but the extent of the deception was so layered and seductive that I literally could not put the book down. Another brilliant read from Ephron. 5 stars.

***

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: VIVIAN IN RED, BY KRISTINA RIGGLE

 

Famed Broadway producer Milo Short may be eighty-eight but that doesn’t stop him from going to the office every day. So when he steps out of his Upper West Side brownstone on one exceptionally hot morning, he’s not expecting to see the impossible: a woman from his life sixty years ago, cherry red lips, bright red hat, winking at him on a New York sidewalk, looking just as beautiful as she did back in 1934.

The sight causes him to suffer a stroke. And when he comes to, the renowned lyricist discovers he has lost the ability to communicate. Milo believes he must unravel his complicated history with Vivian Adair in order to win back his words. But he needs help—in the form of his granddaughter Eleanor—failed journalist and family misfit. Tapped to write her grandfather’s definitive biography, Eleanor must dig into Milo’s colorful past to discover the real story behind Milo’s greatest song Love Me, I Guess, and the mysterious woman who inspired an amazing life.

MY THOUGHTS:
A dual time line story with a mystery at its core, Vivian in Red captured my interest immediately. Why did the vision of Vivian Adair topple poor Milo, and catapult him into the past via visions he now sees and cannot describe, as he has lost his voice?

Granddaughter Eleanor is aware of the visions, although she does not know the meaning. She may be onto something, however, as a stranger named Alexander has called to ask about Milo, and to suggest a more than passing connection between Milo and Vivian.

I liked how the story unfolded by showing us moments in the past, along with Eleanor’s searches from the present while interviewing Milo as best she can. Through gestures and yes and no questions, she finds out more than any of the others have managed. I felt a connection with Eleanor, the grandchild without parents, the condescension she feels from the aunts, uncles, and cousins. The one they now turn to for this final tribute to Milo: a biography that will come out at the same time as a musical revival from the past.

Milo’s son Paul and daughter Rebekah were annoying in the way they demanded things from Eleanor, so I was happy when she started standing up for herself, making them realize that she will do what she can, but at her own pace.

Her boyfriend Daniel has left her, so moving into her grandfather’s home feels right. While interviewing Milo and doing her research, she has time to ponder her choices.

From the glimpses into the past that revealed Vivian’s layers, I had mixed feelings about her. She seemed like a manipulative user who somehow captivated Milo, and is now holding him hostage in his silence. What were the secrets between them? How can Milo be freed from the past? Another brilliant book from an author I enjoy, this one earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: I FOUND YOU, BY LISA JEWELL

In a windswept British seaside town, single mom Alice Lake finds a man sitting on the beach outside her house. He has no name, no jacket, and no idea how he got there. Against her better judgment, she invites him inside.

Meanwhile, in a suburb of London, twenty-one-year-old Lily Monrose has only been married for three weeks. When her new husband fails to come home from work one night she is left stranded in a new country where she knows no one. Then the police tell her that her husband never existed.

Twenty-three years earlier, Gray and Kirsty are teenagers on a summer holiday with their parents. Their annual trip to the quaint seaside town is passing by uneventfully, until an enigmatic young man starts paying extra attention to Kirsty. Something about him makes Gray uncomfortable—and it’s not just that he’s playing the role of protective older brother.

Two decades of secrets, a missing husband, and a man with no memory are at the heart of this brilliant new novel.

MY THOUGHTS: 

Almost immediately, I was caught up into the life of Alice Lake and the man she finds on the beach. She is drawn to him, even though her best friend Derry warns her that he could be dangerous. But Alice, an artist, and someone who doesn’t necessarily follow a conventional path, is willing to take the risk. She feels something special in this man.The children are wary at first, but soon, even the dogs have befriended him. They call him Frank.

Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we watch as a woman named Lily, a newly-wed in a London suburb, desperately tries to find Carl, her missing husband.

Flashing back to 1993, a story unfolds involving Gray and Kirsty Ross, and a handsome rich boy named Mark Tate, who quickly turns from charming to frightening. Each time we flash back, more of the mysterious puzzle pieces fit together.

What is the connection, if any, between these seemingly unrelated characters? Are the events in the present day a surreal coincidence, or might there be a tie between them?

I Found You was a riveting tale that kept me engaged, and even as I thought I had figured out the mysteries and the connections, I was only partially correct. I liked the ending, which felt hopeful. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: HOW WILL I KNOW YOU?, BY JESSICA TREADWAY

how-will-i-know-you

 

 

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***