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***

REVIEW: THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10, BY RUTH WARE

the-woman-in-cabin-10

 

 

 

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.

cropped again 5***

THE 4TH MAN, BY LISA GARDNER

51rozizuthl

 

 

 

D. D. Warren, a Boston Homicide Detective, prides herself on solving cases. But there is one cold case that still disturbs her. The strangling death of college student Jaylin Banks, whose body was found in the stairwell of the library one late night. Only her white Keds sneakers were missing.

Now, ten years later, D. D. has brought in two consultants from Oregon, the husband and wife team of Quincy and Rainie Connor.

Years before, three suspects had been interviewed: Jaylin’s boyfriend, James Duchovny, and two security guards: Dennis Ringham and Santana.

As the two consultants interrogate each of them again, no new information comes forth. It is only when they bring in Erin Pizzey (the alias for Rebecca Stein), a woman who runs the battered woman’s shelter, that more information is brought to light. A significant detail that leads them to the “4th man,” and an arrest.

The 4th Man was a quick and straightforward read. I enjoyed the writing style, mostly made up of interrogations, and the quick resolution to the case. 5 stars.  (My e-ARC came to me from the publishers via NetGalley).

cropped again 5***