REVIEW: WHEN I LAST SAW YOU, BY BETTE LEE CROSBY

Georgia, 1968 – Margaret Rose McCutcheon has just buried her husband and must now name a beneficiary for their estate in case of her demise. She is hard-pressed to do so because there is no one. No children. No family. At least none to speak of. At one time, she had two sisters and six brothers, but the lot of them were scattered to the four winds, with no one knowing where the others went. In the hope of finding at least one of her siblings, Margaret hires a detective and sets off on a journey to uncover the truth of why the family broke apart as it did.

West Virginia, 1901 – When Eliza Hobbs gives birth to her sixth child, her husband is not there to welcome his daughter into the world. No surprise, because Martin is seldom there. He works in Charleston and returns to Coal Creek only when he has a mind to. Yes, he sends money on occasion, but seldom enough to make ends meet. Although Eliza believes each new child a blessing, he sees them as yet another responsibility on his already overloaded shoulders. When he discovers another child is on the way, he demands she get rid of it. he stops returning home and there is no more money.

Left with the children, a mountainside patch of land, and a house in sorry need of repair, Eliza seeks help and turns to someone powerful enough to hold sway over Martin and force him into providing for his family. Pushed to the brink, Martin does something unforgivable and the family is forever torn apart.

Now, after all these years, will Margaret be the one to find the pieces of her broken family?
 
 
 
 
an interior journey thoughts

When I Last Saw You begins with Margaret dealing with the loss of her husband, which includes going through paperwork and discovering interesting details of what her husband had tried to do for her. Curious about why he didn’t pursue the investigation he had started, she reaches out to the last investigator, Tom Bateman. He wasn’t that interested in pursuing the case, but when they met up, she was able to persuade him to try.

From that point on, we follow Margaret and Tom as they pursue the trail of clues leading them to possibilities they had never imagined. Would Margaret find her family? Would the connection that has developed between her and Tom turn into something more than the working relationship?

The story had sad and heartfelt moments, and I laughed, cried, and held my breath as I waited to see what would finally happen.

I loved this book, so of course it earned 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: EVERY VOW YOU BREAK, BY PETER SWANSON

every vow you break
 
 
 
Abigail Baskin never thought she’d fall in love with a millionaire. Then she met Bruce Lamb. He’s a good guy, stable, level-headed, kind—a refreshing twist from her previous relationships.

But right before the wedding, Abigail has a drunken one-night stand on her bachelorette weekend. She puts the incident—and the sexy guy who wouldn’t give her his real name—out of her mind, and now believes she wants to be with Bruce for the rest of her life.

Then the mysterious stranger suddenly appears—and Abigail’s future life and happiness are turned upside down. He insists that their passionate night was the beginning of something much, much more. Something special. Something real—and he’s tracked her down to prove it.

Does she tell Bruce and ruin their idyllic honeymoon—and possibly their marriage? Or should she handle this psychopathic stalker on her own? To make the situation worse, strange things begin to happen. She sees a terrified woman in the night shadows, and no one at the resort seems to believe anything is amiss… including her perfect new husband.

 
 
an interior journey thoughts
 

In Every Vow You Break, Abigail is struggling to enjoy her honeymoon, especially since little details of her new husband’s behavior are beginning to annoy her. Additionally, the man she slept with on her bachelorette weekend has been stalking her, even showing up on the island honeymoon. He has approached her and threatened to tell her new husband about their one-night stand, insisting that they are soul mates.

The creep factor was high in this story, and I could feel it from all sides. Not just the stalker, but the husband. His honeymoon selections kept Abigail off guard, beginning to question her own choices. And when Abigail tries to leave the island, obstacles appear from everywhere. She realizes that she cannot trust anyone. As the intensity deepens, Abigail feels like she is in a bad dream being chased through the dark. A brilliant 5 star read.

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REVIEW: ARE WE THERE YET?, BY KATHLEEN WEST

Alice Sullivan feels like she’s finally found her groove in middle age, but it only takes one moment for her perfectly curated life to unravel. On the same day she learns her daughter is struggling in second grade, a call from her son’s school accusing him of bullying throws Alice into a tailspin.
When it comes to light that the incident is part of a new behavior pattern for her son, one complete with fake social media profiles with a lot of questionable content, Alice’s social standing is quickly eroded to one of “those moms” who can’t control her kids. Soon she’s facing the very judgement she was all too happy to dole out when she thought no one was looking (or when she thought her house wasn’t made of glass).

Then her mother unloads a family secret she’s kept for more than thirty years, and Alice’s entire perception of herself is shattered.

As her son’s new reputation polarizes her friendships and her family buzzes with the ramification of her mother’s choices, Alice realizes that she’s been too focused on measuring her success and happiness by everyone else’s standards. Now, with all her shortcomings laid bare, she’ll have to figure out to whom to turn for help and decide who she really wants to be.

Alice and some of her friends alternately narrate the story in Are We There Yet?, revealing the issues that are turning their lives upside down because of their children and social networking.

I felt a special connection to Alice, whose interior design career, along with her need to be a good parent, changes dramatically because of the actions of her twelve-year-old son. Other mothers react differently, and some look in judgment on Alice, even when their own children make similar mistakes. Dealing with the injustice of it kept me rooting for Alice.

Meanwhile, a secret from Alice’s mother’s past changes up the family as well.

Watching these characters navigate the turmoil of the tween years and the challenges of family life kept me turning the pages, eager for more. 4.5 stars for this delightful read.

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REVIEW: THE GOOD SISTER, BY SALLY HEPWORTH


There’s only been one time that Rose couldn’t stop me from doing the wrong thing and that was a mistake that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

When Rose discovers that she cannot get pregnant, Fern sees her chance to pay her sister back for everything Rose has done for her. Fern can have a baby for Rose. She just needs to find a father. Simple.

Fern’s mission will shake the foundations of the life she has carefully built for herself and stir up dark secrets from the past, in this quirky, rich and shocking story of what families keep hidden.

 

The alternating narration of twins Rose and Fern hooked me from the very first page. It didn’t take long for me to love Fern and be suspicious of Rose. There was something so controlling and manipulative about Rose, and even though her diary entries seemed to point to a different kind of assessment of the two of them, I wasn’t buying it.

The Good Sister, in my opinion, was Fern all along.

As the story takes us through their daily lives, we are drawn in by how Rose manages to spin a tale that reels Fern in, allowing her to control what Fern does in her personal life, including her relationship with the interesting man Fern calls Wally.

Fern’s sensory issues, in which she misses social cues at times, makes her mistrust her own choices, especially when Rose is reinforcing this assessment all along.

By the end of the story, I was wanting to call out to Fern, telling her to only trust herself and Wally. A book that I could not put down, this story earned 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

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REVIEW: FINLAY DONOVAN IS KILLING IT, BY ELLE COSIMANO

 

 

Finlay Donovan is killing it . . . except, she’s really not. She’s a stressed-out single-mom of two and struggling novelist, Finlay’s life is in chaos: the new book she promised her literary agent isn’t written, her ex-husband fired the nanny without telling her, and this morning she had to send her four-year-old to school with hair duct-taped to her head after an incident with scissors.

When Finlay is overheard discussing the plot of her new suspense novel with her agent over lunch, she’s mistaken for a contract killer, and inadvertently accepts an offer to dispose of a problem husband in order to make ends meet . . . Soon, Finlay discovers that crime in real life is a lot more difficult than its fictional counterpart, as she becomes tangled in a real-life murder investigation.

 
 
 

From the very first page of Finlay Donovan Is Killing It, I was hooked. On the characters, the fast-paced and intriguing plot, and the intensity I felt as I flipped the pages, racing toward the conclusion.

How could Finlay’s life right itself after she has inadvertently found herself caught up in a nefarious scheme that could land her in prison? How would she keep her ex-husband from winning custody of her children in a fight for them? Would she ever find enough money to have a normal life?

A cast of interesting and colorful characters, like Vero and Julian and Nick, added intrigue and smiles to the tale while my curiosity remained on high alert.

I couldn’t anticipate what would happen next, but I kept guessing. Hoping and wondering where the story would take us and if Finlay really would be “killing it” in the end. I loved this book! 5 stars.

 
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REVIEW: THIS IS BIG, BY MARISA MELTZER

Marisa Meltzer began her first diet at the age of five. Growing up an indoors-loving child in Northern California, she learned from an early age that weight was the one part of her life she could neither change nor even really understand.
Fast forward nearly four decades. Marisa, also a contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Times, comes across an obituary for Jean Nidetch, the Queens, New York housewife who founded Weight Watchers in 1963. Weaving Jean’s incredible story as weight loss maven and pathbreaking entrepreneur with Marisa’s own journey through Weight Watchers, she chronicles the deep parallels, and enduring frustrations, in each woman’s decades-long efforts to lose weight and keep it off. The result is funny, unexpected, and unforgettable: a testament to how transformation goes far beyond a number on the scale.

A journey that kept me intrigued throughout, This Is Big follows the alternating stories of Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers, and our author Marisa Meltzer. The anecdotal tales resonated in many ways, as I could recall my own relationship with food over the years, from constantly trying to lose the extra ten pounds during high school to more weight loss following pregnancies. Then the constant maintenance required once food and weight become the center of our lives.

As I read the stories, I was reminded of my struggles over the years, and how in recent years, I found myself trying one weight loss program after another, from Jenny Craig to individual diet plans I discovered in books and magazines. Nothing seemed to help with a long-term maintenance plan, but as I read about Weight Watchers, I realized I hadn’t ever tried that one. I did know that sharing stories with others was an important component of weight loss and maintenance success. Like addicts who go to Twelve Step meetings.

I enjoyed the author’s style and her ability to weave the relevant messaging into the stories she shared…and how she found solutions that worked for her. I also liked how the industry changes moved from dieting to weight loss to wellness…and then to making choices on our own terms. A great journey! 5 stars..#2021ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: AN ORDINARY LIFE, BY AMANDA PROWSE

 

Christmas Eve, 2019. Ninety-four-year-old Molly lies in her hospital bed. A stroke and a fall may have broken her body—but her mind is alive with memories.

London, 1940s. Molly is a bright young woman, determined to help the war effort and keep her head up despite it all. Life becomes brighter when she meets and falls in love with a man who makes her forget everything with one dance. But then war forces her to make an unforgettable sacrifice, and when she’s brought to her knees by a daring undercover mission with the French Resistance, only her sister knows the secret weighing heavily on Molly’s heart.

Now, lying in her hospital bed, Molly can’t escape the memories of what she lost all those years ago. But she is not as alone as she thinks.

Will she be able to find peace—and finally understand that what seemed to be an ordinary life was anything but?

 
 
 
 
An Ordinary Life opens on Christmas Eve, 2019, with 94-year-old Molly in hospital after a stroke and a fall. As she lies in the bed, her mind traipses back over the years and through the many memorable moments that have decorated her life.

As a teenager in the 1940s, she fell in love with a man she hoped to spend her life with, but that was not to be her destiny. A lovely treasure has come out of that love, but the war rages and leads to a choice that will change everything in ways she cannot undo.

I loved Molly’s journey through the war years and afterwards and felt a lump in my throat at the life she had lost. And for what would happen in the subsequent years. I kept hoping for peace and love for her at last…but would she find it?

I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the settings, events, and how she brought Molly’s little cottage to life for me. A cozy place that could somehow fill in the empty places in her life.

The characters that also filled in the gaps in her life were family members, those who could substitute for some of her losses.

The book’s title “an ordinary life” might seem like a misnomer, but by the end of the tale, one could conclude that the ordinary moments were the ones to be treasured. A 5 star read.

REVIEW: EVERY WAKING HOUR, BY JOANNA SCHAFFHAUSEN

 

After surviving a serial killer’s abduction as a young teenager, Ellery Hathaway is finally attempting a normal life. She has a new job as a rookie Boston detective and a fledgling relationship with Reed Markham, the FBI agent who rescued her years ago. But when a twelve-year-old girl disappears on Ellery’s watch, the troubling case opens deep wounds that never fully healed.

Chloe Lockhart walked away from a busy street fair and vanished into the crowd. Maybe she was fleeing the suffocating surveillance her parents put on her from the time she was born, or maybe the evil from her parents’ past finally caught up to her. For Chloe, as Ellery learns, is not the first child Teresa Lockhart has lost.

Ellery knows what it’s like to have the past stalk you, to hold your breath around every corner.

Sending one kidnapped girl to find another could be Chloe’s only hope or an unmitigated disaster that dooms them both. Ellery must untangle the labyrinth of secrets inside the Lockhart household — secrets that have already murdered one child. Each second that ticks by reminds her of her own lost hours, how close she came to death, and how near it still remains.

 
 
 

From the first moments of Every Waking Hour, we are thrust into Ellery Hathaway’s past as she tries to cobble together a life in the present.

Reed Markham, the FBI agent who rescued her years before, is now her lover, although they are trying to keep it off the radar.

Chloe’s disappearance awakens old memories for Ellery, but she is determined to use her own experiences to help find the girl.

As a Boston PD detective, Ellery is acutely aware of the pitfalls of using her own experience to work a case, but she could also be uniquely qualified to find the answers.

I haven’t read the previous books in this series, but the author has done a great job of filling in Ellery’s background.

As we follow the clues that lead to answers, we can’t help holding our breath as each moment passes. I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next to Reed and Ellery. 4.5 stars.

 
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REVIEW: THE BOOK OF TWO WAYS, BY JODI PICOULT

 

Everything changes in a single moment for Dawn Edelstein. She’s on a plane when the flight attendant makes an announcement: Prepare for a crash landing. She braces herself as thoughts flash through her mind. The shocking thing is, the thoughts are not of her husband but of a man she last saw fifteen years ago: Wyatt Armstrong.

Dawn, miraculously, survives the crash, but so do all the doubts that have suddenly been raised. She has led a good life. Back in Boston, there is her husband, Brian, their beloved daughter, and her work as a death doula, in which she helps ease the transition between life and death for her clients.

But somewhere in Egypt is Wyatt Armstrong, who works as an archaeologist unearthing ancient burial sites, a career Dawn once studied for but was forced to abandon when life suddenly intervened. And now, when it seems that fate is offering her second chances, she is not as sure of the choice she once made.

After the crash landing, the airline ensures that the survivors are seen by a doctor, then offers transportation to wherever they want to go. The obvious destination is to fly home, but she could take another path: return to the archaeological site she left years before, reconnect with Wyatt and their unresolved history, and maybe even complete her research on The Book of Two Ways—the first known map of the afterlife.

As the story unfolds, Dawn’s two possible futures unspool side by side, as do the secrets and doubts long buried with them. Dawn must confront the questions she’s never truly asked: What does a life well lived look like? When we leave this earth, what do we leave behind? Do we make choices . . . or do our choices make us? And who would you be if you hadn’t turned out to be the person you are right now?

 

 

Immediately we are thrust into the past for Dawn Edelstein, in The Book of Two Ways. She returns to the past as she revisits the Egyptian site where she first felt the passion of studying burial sites with Wyatt Armstrong. Back in Boston, her husband Brian waits, not understanding what has happened. And her daughter Meret is struggling.

I could relate to the need to explore unfinished journeys, and even the road not taken. But is Dawn risking her present life for one that might have been?

The story flips between the past and the present, and I soon found myself not enjoying the journey into the past and wishing Dawn would stay focused on what she has in the here and now. Like this moment she experiences with a client who is dying: “Her portrait of death lives in shadows. It’s midnight blue and dusky violet and violent black, but if you stare at it hard enough, you can make out two faint profiles, a breath apart, unable to complete that kiss for eternity.”

But in parallel universes, we watch the characters flash back and forth, and the destinies that unfold are fascinating. We are kept on tenterhooks, wondering what will finally happen for them. While I often found myself preferring parts of the story more than others, in the end I couldn’t stop pushing through to the ultimate answers that might take the characters to places they should be.

A book that held me captive until the end, I soon forgot about the parts I didn’t like much…and concluded that the work was unforgettable and had earned 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE PUSH, BY ASHLEY AUDRAIN

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter—she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born—and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

Even though the protagonist in The Push seems like an unreliable narrator, I began to trust her version of events because of the dismissive way that her husband is treating her. And the more time we spend with Violet, I felt that scary intensity that comes from huge red flags.

I knew that nothing good would come of this family, and as we learn more and more about Blythe’s childhood and her mother and grandmother, I knew that everything stemmed from those past connections.

But what is really going on with Violet? Is her father reinforcing her dysfunctional relationship with Blythe? Is he truly oblivious to her flaws and issues?

I kept turning the pages, wanting to find out more. All the while, I am questioning what I believe and doubting what is right in front of us. Until finally we know the truth. A five star read.

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