THE SLIPPERY NATURE OF MEMORY — A REVIEW

Both the title and the opening lines drew me in immediately, as I knew that this would be a tale about family secrets and the cost of keeping them.

Drowning Ruth [Hardcover] begins in 1919, with Amanda Starkey’s role as a nurse during the war. But from there, we weave in and out of periods of time, both backward and forward, learning the story of Amanda and her sister Mathilda, who drowned mysteriously one night in November later that year, and the subsequent journey of Mathilda’s daughter Ruth.

The details are slipped in during these moments of reflection, like “doses” of medicine surreptitiously fed to a resistant patient. Later we hear Ruth’s voice, as she ages, from the confused thoughts about family events and drowning to later moments of increasing clarity. For Ruth is convinced that she drowned.

We can see from the beginning that the relationship between Amanda and Mathilda (Matty) is conflicted. There is a close bond–they are almost enmeshed–and yet the rivalry is readily apparent.

Other important characters are brought forth almost casually, like Clement Owens: his role in Amanda’s life will not be apparent for awhile.

What really happened to Mathilda Starkey, and what secrets have kept Amanda from moving on? How does the truth eventually come out, and what ramifications will unfold?

In some ways, the slipping back and forth through time felt confusing, and yet it also seemed appropriate. Like floating thoughts that slip in and out of our minds, these snippets seemed to show us the nature of memories.

I had hopes that Ruth would finally detach from the enmeshed relationship with Amanda, but alas: she seems to become the clone of her aunt, falling into her same patterns, living on the farm like a recluse. An emotionally disturbing story, I know that I won’t forget it. Four stars.

CONVERGING LIVES ON A COLLISION COURSE — A REVIEW

Family connections, secrets, and the love of place are the primary themes of Lisa Unger’s Heartbroken: A Novel. And intriguingly, Heart Island, the Heart family’s summer home, is the place where they vacation every summer.

For Birdie Heart Burke, however, the island is so much more than a vacation home. She would stay there all year long if she could. At 70+, Birdie has many wonderful memories of childhood times here…and she also ponders the bitter rivalries in her life that insert themselves into those memories.

Birdie’s husband Joe doesn’t care for the island, nor do he and Birdie have much to link them any longer.

We open to Birdie’s thoughts and feelings, and then move along to other characters, such as Birdie and Joe’s daughter Kate. Mother to Chelsea and Brendan, Kate has made many poor choices, including her first marriage. But finally she is in a good place with husband Sean…and the secret she holds close to her heart. A secret she plans to share when they go to Heart Island.

On another side of town, and in a parallel existence, Emily struggles. She has always had the feeling of loss for something she cannot quite define, and her quest for love and acceptance leads to tangled love relationships: especially her current connection to Dean, who veers between caring and loving and harsh emotional abuse. Like the lab animal reinforced intermittently, however, she keeps hanging on, waiting for the loving part.

These three very different women will find themselves on a collision course within a short time.

Without giving away too many hints about the storyline, which comes together subtly, I must say that parts of it moved slowly, unlike Unger’s other fast-paced suspense tales; however, the richly layered characters kept me interested. Then at the end, events sped up and I felt as though I was in an Unger story at last.

Yet after the denouement, the story continued for a bit, showing the reader “aftereffects” that leveled me out a bit after the previous intensity. An unusual yet emotionally satisfying story: four stars.

INEXPLICABLE TIES THAT BIND — A REVIEW

When Adrienne Dealey arrives on Nantucket Island, she is broke, rudderless, and running from a life of lost connections and relationship woes.

A motherless child at twelve, most of Adrienne’s life has been about fleeing from the past.

On her first day in Nantucket, she meets Thatcher Smith, one of the owners of the Blue Bistro, a legend in its own time, famous for its cuisine and its reclusive chef and co-owner, Fiona Kemp.

When Thatcher hires her, he also lets her know that this summer is the final season for the Blue Bistro. That is fine with Adrienne, who is accustomed to short-term gigs and ties that do not bind.

So, surprisingly, what happens to Adrienne in the upcoming months will change the course of her life forever. Will she finally discover the real kind of love? And what will the secrets binding Fiona to Thatcher mean for her tenuous future? And what, finally, will Adrienne discover about herself for the first time since her mother died?

At first, I thought this would be a simple beach read, with typical romantic connections, but I was very wrong. The Blue Bistro delves into the mysteries of human connections and the ties that bind us to one another inexplicably. It leads the reader down unexpected pathways as the fears, insecurities, and haunting past mistakes of the characters connect us to them as we keep turning pages, wondering how the journey will end.

It is a tale of unexpected opportunity, self-discovery, and second chances: a five star read, this tome is a fascinating exploration that is not predictable and kept me guessing until the final pages. Highly recommended for Hilderbrand fans and for those who want something meatier than the usual light romantic fare.

DISCOVERING HERSELF ON THE WAY TO FINDING MR. RIGHT — A REVIEW

Jacquie Stuart is a Manhattan single girl looking for love in all the wrong places. She is also a writer/editor at a movie review magazine, and an occasional features writer for a chick-lit magazine. Approaching her mid-thirties, she begins to wonder if she will ever find love that stays.

So when she takes on an assignment to write an article about a new way to find love, she begins to think she has found the way to happiness. By checking out the “roommate wanted” ads, she can find out more about a guy by studying his surroundings. And if she is lucky, she might find a love connection, too.

When Jacquie does find what she believes will be the perfect situation for her, she has to sublet her own apartment in order to move in with Mr. Right. But is he? How does Jacquie really feel about this man who makes her heart race, but who also seldom finds time for her? What will happen when Anthony finally discovers that the way they met was a ruse for her to get an article…and possibly a man?

Unexpected events cause Jacquie to question everything, and then, suddenly, she learns that the love she was searching was right around the corner all the time.

Room for Love was a fun, light, reading experience that fans of chick lit will adore. Especially if they also love stories about New York. The characters were appealing and felt like real-life people you might meet if you were living in Manhattan. The situations they encountered felt relevant to the times in which we live. I chose four stars for this one, though, because the plot was predictable and I had figured out the ending about halfway through the book.