REVIEW: THE SWAP, BY ROBYN HARDING

 

Low Morrison is not your average teen. You could blame her hippie parents or her looming height or her dreary, isolated hometown on an island in the Pacific Northwest. But whatever the reason, Low just doesn’t fit in—and neither does Freya, an ethereal beauty and once-famous social media influencer who now owns the local pottery studio.

After signing up for a class, Low quickly falls under Freya’s spell. And Freya, buoyed by Low’s adoration, is compelled to share her darkest secrets and deepest desires. Finally, both feel a sense of belonging…that is, until Jamie walks through the studio door. Desperate for a baby, she and her husband have moved to the island hoping that the healthy environment will result in a pregnancy. Freya and Jamie become fast friends, as do their husbands, leaving Low alone once again.

Then one night, after a boozy dinner party, Freya suggests swapping partners. It should have been a harmless fling between consenting adults, one night of debauchery that they would put behind them, but instead, it upends their lives. And provides Low the perfect opportunity to unleash her growing resentment.


What begins as a tale of obsession and jealousy, The Swap soon becomes so much more. Is it about love gone wrong, or is it about the narcissistic actions of a woman whose own needs, desires, and destructive manipulations control the lives of those around her?

The characters were all flawed and unlikable in many ways. Jamie and Brian had some redeeming qualities, so in the end, I found myself rooting for them.

Low seemed tragically affected by her own family’s issues and seeking love in all the wrong places.

An engaging, but dark story that earned 4.5 stars from me.

***

REVIEW: SWEET LAMB OF HEAVEN, BY LYDIA MILLET

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From the opening pages, we enter the strange, yet curious world of Anna, a young mother who hears voices that nobody else hears…but that stop once her infant daughter Lena starts speaking.

Her cold and sociopathic husband Ned is frightening, and I was so happy that she ran away with Lena, from Alaska to an out-of-the-way motel in Maine.

The motel is fascinating, in that the more or less fulltime residents seem to have been drawn there. By something they all have in common. The motel owner, Don, is like a guru. Or could he be a protector?

When Ned tracks Anna down, he has a very specific purpose in mind: he is running for political office, and wants Anna and Lena to show up for photo ops, etc. But there is something even more sinister going on with Ned, as Anna soon finds out.

Can Anna escape Ned’s grasp? How can she create a new life, free of him, when everything seems to suggest that he and his backers are conspiring to keep her in her place? Is she truly in danger, or is she paranoid?

Sweet Lamb of Heaven was a beautifully written story that kept drawing me in, and then turning me around. Every time I thought I had it all figured out, something new would blindside me. It could be a tale of spiritual mysticism, the abuse of power, and mind control. Or there might be more beneath the surface. What final act must Anna take to free herself from Ned? A five star read.

cropped again 5***

REVIEW: MOTHER, MOTHER, BY KOREN ZAILCKAS

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From the outside, the Hursts look like the picture-perfect family: a beautiful home; the tech guru father Douglas; two beautiful daughters, Rose and Violet; and a brilliantly intelligent son Will. Josephine, the mother, can certainly credit herself with this perfect facade. But after the oldest daughter Rose takes off with her mysterious boyfriend, the ties that bind them all begin to unravel. And on one tumultuous night, violence erupts. Will’s hand is badly injured and Violet is hauled off to the psychiatric unit. Fingers are pointed, and she is targeted as the perpetrator.

In alternating chapters, we see the world through the eyes of Violet and Will. Each of them has a very different view of the family, and most especially the mother. But this is a family dynamic that soon begins to reveal itself as a very pathological one. Will’s view of his mother is strongly biased by his “favored child” position.

Josephine has a way of making herself the center of the universe, and chooses on whom to shine her benevolence, depending upon which child is pleasing her at that moment. Her narcissism is overwhelming, and as time passes, Will, who is “gifted” by her benevolence at this point in time, seems to hover between sanity and insanity.

Meanwhile, in the psych ward, Violet is learning more about how her mother’s manipulations have affected all of them. But will she be able to bring anyone around to seeing things her way? What will have to happen before the truth about their family is revealed? And as more and more of the deadly secrets unfold, who can save them? Can anyone be redeemed?

The story made me feel a bit unbalanced, just trying to stay on top of of Josephine’s machinations; I could not stop reading, wondering what she would do next. Dark, disturbing, and totally captivating, Mother, Mother: A Novel is a tale that makes me very happy not to be part of this family. Five stars.