REVIEW: THE GIRL HE USED TO KNOW, BY TRACEY GARVIS GRAVES

 

Annika (rhymes with Monica) Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people’s behavior confusing, she’d rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.

Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game—and his heart—to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.

Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She’s living the life she wanted as a librarian. He’s a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.

My Thoughts: The Girl He Used to Know takes the reader back and forth in time, between 2001, when Annika and Jonathan serendipitously reconnected, to 1991 when they were in college.

Annika’s social anxiety and other issues seemed to trigger the protective, nurturing aspects in Jonathan. But were they destined to fail back then? Can they sort through the issues and do better this time?

As Annika and Jonathan alternately tell their story, we learn more about them and the events that separated them in the past. Moving forward, with the help of a therapist for Annika, we come to understand her struggles and how she has worked to overcome them, and how the two of them have grown and changed.

August 2001 was a significant time period for them to reconnect, as something traumatic loomed on the horizon for them that would require all of their strength to overcome. An emotional ending kept me turning pages as I could not help but root for the two of them. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: TELL ME LIES, BY CAROLA LOVERING

 

Lucy Albright is far from her Long Island upbringing when she arrives on the campus of her small California college, and happy to be hundreds of miles from her mother, whom she’s never forgiven for an act of betrayal in her early teen years. Quickly grasping at her fresh start, Lucy embraces college life and all it has to offer—new friends, wild parties, stimulating classes. And then she meets Stephen DeMarco. Charming. Attractive. Complicated. Devastating.

Confident and cocksure, Stephen sees something in Lucy that no one else has, and she’s quickly seduced by this vision of herself, and the sense of possibility that his attention brings her. Meanwhile, Stephen is determined to forget an incident buried in his past that, if exposed, could ruin him, and his single-minded drive for success extends to winning, and keeping, Lucy’s heart.

Lucy knows there’s something about Stephen that isn’t to be trusted. Stephen knows Lucy can’t tear herself away. And their addicting entanglement will have consequences they never could have imagined.

My Thoughts: Tell Me Lies sweeps back and forth through time but begins in the present with Lucy Albright attending the wedding of one of her best friends from college. She is living in Manhattan, but her thoughts on this day take her back to her college years in California.

Lucy and Stephen had one of those relationships that never seemed to progress. They couldn’t seem to stay together for various reasons, but they couldn’t stay apart, either.

What drew them together? What kept them apart? Their inability to make the relationship work or stay away from each other kept me frustrated on their behalf.

They each had issues from the past that factored into their mishaps with one another, and these problems were severe enough that they seemed doomed to never have what they wanted from each other. As the story unfolded, and each narrator shared moments that had affected them, it was easy to see that the patterns of behavior were deeply entrenched, and the traumas of the past had contributed in some way. One shocking event from the past was revealed near the end and made the story feel climactic.

I found each of these characters frustrating and hoped that they would eventually manage to move on. But I was also curious enough to keep reading. I did enjoy how the author added that unique flavor of each setting, from LA to Manhattan, allowing the reader to experience the moments with the characters: tasting the hot dogs or the drinks, feeling the ambience of the various bars and restaurants, and seeing the interiors of the apartments and homes. A slower read than I usually choose, but in the end, it was enjoyable. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: TRULY MADLY GUILTY, BY LIANE MORIARTY

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In the opening lines of Truly Madly Guilty, we learn about a significant event that will change the lives of three couples and everything they thought they knew about themselves.

A barbecue. What could be so important about a get-together like this one?

More than this one event, however, is the significance of the history between two of the characters, Erika and Clementine. How they became friends and their complex journey will reveal much about what ultimately happens, and will shape how everything unfolds.

They started as school friends, but we soon realize that the friendship was lopsided. Clementine had been pressured into inviting Erika to events by her social worker mom, Pam, and as a result, Clementine’s resentment had the power to undermine them in the end. What motivated Pam to reach out to Erika? What horrible secret about Erika’s home and family life is driving the social worker’s actions?

The tale, set in Australia, moves back and forth through time, revealing life after the barbecue…and life on the day of the barbecue. Memories are skewed by alcohol and the resulting intoxication, so the story also helps us see what actually happened, but only a few bits at a time.

I liked how the author showed what the characters were feeling along the way, and also how she filled in details of their personalities and made them seem like real people, flawed and struggling. The chapters had headings that guided us through the journey, and in the end, I felt satisfied that I finally knew how the events of that day had played out.

However, as much as I enjoyed this book, as I’ve loved all the author’s work, the big reveal felt anti-climactic, since learning it all via bits and pieces left us guessing and wondering, but also a little frustrated; and then, when we saw the final pieces of the puzzle come together, there was a feeling of “is that all there is?” But…what I loved more than waiting to see how the final revelations would fill in the gaps was watching the characters struggle with wondering and worrying about their own culpability for that day. How that one day became a defining moment for each of them, leading to better choices in the future. 4.5 stars.

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