REVIEW: THE LOVE STORY OF MISSY CARMICHAEL, BY BETH MORREY

The world has changed around seventy-nine-year-old librarian Millicent Carmichael, aka Missy. Though quick to admit that she often found her roles as a housewife and mother less than satisfying, Missy once led a bustling life driven by two children, an accomplished and celebrated husband, and a Classics degree from Cambridge. Now her husband is gone, her daughter is estranged after a shattering argument, and her son has moved to his wife’s native Australia, taking Missy’s beloved only grandchild half-a-world away. She spends her days sipping sherry, avoiding people, and rattling around in her oversized, under-decorated house waiting for…what exactly?

The last thing Missy expects is for two perfect strangers and one spirited dog named Bob to break through her prickly exterior and show Missy just how much love she still has to give. In short order, Missy finds herself in the jarring embrace of an eclectic community that simply won’t take no for an answer–including a rambunctious mutt-on-loan whose unconditional love gives Missy a reason to re-enter the world one muddy paw print at a time.

Filled with wry laughter and deep insights, The Love Story of Missy Carmichael is a coming-of-old story that shows us it’s never too late to forgive yourself and, just as important, it’s never too late to love.

It was easy to like Missy, and I could relate to her feelings and her issues.

Loneliness that can disappear when new people and a needy dog fill her life with comfort and peace made The Love Story of Missy Carmichael a delightful journey.

But as time passed, we learned more and more about what happened between Missy and her children, and also about her marriage to Leo. A surprising conclusion to the Missy and Leo love story changed everything. But the friendships Missy had developed brought a satisfying turn of events. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: PIECE OF MY HEART, BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK/ALAFAIR BURKE

Television producer Laurie Moran and her fiancée, Alex Buckley, the former host of her investigative television show, are just days away from their mid-summer wedding, when things take a dark turn. Alex’s seven-year-old nephew, Johnny, vanishes from the beach. A search party begins and witnesses recall Johnny playing in the water and collecting shells behind the beach shack, but no one remembers seeing him after the morning. As the sun sets, Johnny’s skim board washes up to shore, and everyone realizes that he could be anywhere, even under water.

A ticking clock, a sinister stalker, and fresh romance combine in this exhilarating follow up to the bestselling You Don’t Own Me—another riveting page-turner from the “Queen of Suspense” Mary Higgins Clark and her dazzling partner-in-crime Alafair Burke.

 
 
 
 

Piece of My Heart is an intense thriller with red herrings and convoluted twists and turns that takes us on an enjoyable journey, loving the familiar characters and gasping at the unexpected events. Through this final tale in the series, we are offered a final glimpse of the characters and their history.

As my First Book of 2021, I was thrilled with the engaging tale, and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

Laurie Moran and Alex Buckley are favorite characters, and I have followed every book in the Under Suspicion series, so I was especially eager to find out what we would discover along the way.

A missing boy, one with a complicated history, keeps the tale going and makes for an intense story, one that could ultimately be the centerpiece of one of Laurie’s TV productions.

A crime from the past woven into the story kept the reader drawn into the history of the television series. I was captivated to the very end, and award 5 stars to this book.

 
***
FIRST BOOK OF 2021
 
***

REVIEW: THE LIES YOU TOLD, BY HARRIET TYCE

In the playground it’s the law of the jungle

But at the school gate, there are no rules at all…

When Sadie Roper moves back to London, she’s determined to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. First, she needs to get her daughter settled into a new school-one of the most exclusive in the city. Next, she’s going to get back the high-flying criminal barrister career she sacrificed for marriage ten years earlier. But nothing goes quite as planned. The school is not very welcoming newcomers, her daughter hasn’t made any friends yet and the other mothers are as fiercely competitive as their children. Sadie immediately finds herself on the outside as she navigates the fraught politics of the school gate.

But the tide starts to turn as Sadie begins to work on a scandalous, high-profile case that’s the perfect opportunity to prove herself again, even though a dangerous flirtation threatens to cloud her professional judgment. And when Liza, queen of the school moms, befriends Sadie, she draws her into the heart of the world from which she was previously excluded. Soon Sadie and her family start to thrive, but does this close new friendship prevent her from seeing the truth? Sadie may be keeping her friends close, but what she doesn’t know is that her enemies are closer still…

As The Lies You Told begins, we meet Sadie and her daughter Robin, starting over in London, with Robin enrolled in the same school that Sadie had attended as a child.  They are living in the home where Sadie grew up, a home with a cold, uncaring mother.  They have only returned to the house and the school in order to honor the conditions of the trust Sadie’s mother left behind.

Almost immediately, we are offered a glimpse of cold and competitive mothers, vying for their daughters’ positions in the school, and bullying everyone around them.  They were impossible to like, and by the end of the story, we are not surprised by what one or more of them have done.

Alternating between the scenes at the school are the ones showing Sadie’s job as a barrister working on a case that could have been ripped from the headlines.

Another alternate storyline shows someone in search of a lost child, racing to find answers, and as the story picks up toward the end, we learn more about the narrator and the secrets underneath the surface.

An intense thrill ride that kept me rapidly turning pages, this book definitely earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: RODHAM, BY CURTIS SITTENFELD

In 1971, Hillary Rodham is a young woman full of promise: Life magazine has covered her Wellesley commencement speech, she’s attending Yale Law School, and she’s on the forefront of student activism and the women’s rights movement. And then she meets Bill Clinton. A handsome, charismatic southerner and fellow law student, Bill is already planning his political career. In each other, the two find a profound intellectual, emotional, and physical connection that neither has previously experienced.

In the real world, Hillary followed Bill back to Arkansas, and he proposed several times; although she said no more than once, as we all know, she eventually accepted and became Hillary Clinton.

But in Curtis Sittenfeld’s powerfully imagined tour-de-force of fiction, Hillary takes a different road. Feeling doubt about the prospective marriage, she endures their devastating breakup and leaves Arkansas. Over the next four decades, she blazes her own trail—one that unfolds in public as well as in private, that involves crossing paths again (and again) with Bill Clinton, that raises questions about the trade-offs all of us must make in building a life.

Brilliantly weaving a riveting fictional tale into actual historical events, Curtis Sittenfeld delivers an uncannily astute and witty story for our times. In exploring the loneliness, moral ambivalence, and iron determination that characterize the quest for political power, as well as both the exhilaration and painful compromises demanded of female ambition in a world still run mostly by men, Rodham is a singular and unforgettable novel.

For the last four years, I have been focused more on politics than ever before, primarily because of events that seemingly toppled our world with Hillary Clinton’s “loss” to Trump.

Rodham is a book I couldn’t wait to start reading, wondering how the fictionalized world of Hillary would shape up and answer some of my own questions about the “what ifs” in life.

In some ways, I felt sad for how Hillary and Bill took separate pathways in this “reimagined” universe, as they had become an unbreakable “pair” in my mind. But as I followed the journey outlined in Sittenfeld’s novel, I became more and more intrigued.

What if everything had turned out as it does in Sittenfeld’s universe? Wouldn’t it have been wonderful?

There were humorous moments in the book, as Hillary’s imagined first meetings with Donald Trump seemed extremely possible and reflected how many of us view that man.

Then the pathways take another twist, and I enjoyed the scenes of how Hillary’s fictionalized world included bantering with friends about predestination, expressing how other lives could have unfolded if we all had had slightly different circumstances.

I found myself wishing for those alternate worlds. A 5 star read.

***

REVIEW: GOODNIGHT BEAUTIFUL, BY AIMEE MOLLOY

A handsome psychotherapist. His lonely wife. And in his home office ceiling, a vent …
You’d listen too, wouldn’t you? (You know you would.)Newlyweds Sam Statler and Annie Potter are head over heels, and excited to say good-bye to New York City and start a life together in Sam’s sleepy hometown upstate. Or, it turns out, a life where Annie spends most of her time alone while Sam, her therapist husband, works long hours in his downstairs office, tending to the egos of his (mostly female) clientele. Little does Sam know that through a vent in his ceiling, every word of his sessions can be heard from the room upstairs. The pharmacist’s wife, contemplating a divorce. The well-known painter whose boyfriend doesn’t satisfy her in bed. Who could resist listening? Everything is fine until the French girl in the green mini Cooper shows up, and Sam decides to go to work and not come home, throwing a wrench into Sam and Annie’s happily ever after.

Showcasing Molloy’s deft ability to subvert norms and culminating in the kind of stunning twist that is becoming her trademark, Goodnight Beautiful is a thrilling tale of domestic suspense that not only questions assumptions but defies expectations.

Alternating narrators take us through the pages of Goodnight Beautiful, and in the very beginning, I thought I had the identities of the narrators sorted. But I was wrong.

And then, when our protagonist Sam Statler disappears suddenly, I had my theories about that incident, too. I was wrong again.

Not wanting to introduce spoilers, I will admit that I was stunned about the identity of the first-person narrator, the landlord of the house where Sam has his office space. I did not learn this fact until more than halfway through the story.

What is going on? I was puzzled and intrigued…and the story gripped me at this point as I tried to guess what might happen next.

Twists and turns take us through some harrowing times for both Sam and Annie, and as we learn more about the darkest character, we can almost see the writing on the wall. But then, suddenly, things change and the characters we are rooting for have their happy ending. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: I WAS TOLD IT WOULD GET EASIER, BY ABBI WAXMAN

 
Jessica and Emily Burnstein have very different ideas of how this college tour should go.

For Emily, it’s a preview of freedom, exploring the possibility of her new and more exciting future. Not that she’s sure she even wants to go to college, but let’s ignore that for now. And maybe the other kids on the tour will like her more than the ones at school. . . . They have to, right?

For Jessica, it’s a chance to bond with the daughter she seems to have lost. They used to be so close, but then Goldfish crackers and Play-Doh were no longer enough of a draw. She isn’t even sure if Emily likes her anymore. To be honest, Jessica isn’t sure she likes herself.

Together with a dozen strangers—and two familiar enemies—Jessica and Emily travel the East Coast, meeting up with family and old friends along the way. Surprises and secrets threaten their relationship and, in the end, change it forever.

 
 
 

Alternating narratives tell the story of I Was Told It Would Get Easier.

Jessica and Emily’s voices keep us looped into their adventurous college tour week. Sometimes I got a little bored with the tour itself, but I always enjoyed the snarky voices they each showed us.

Mothers and daughters have the same issues we all imagine, and some of us have experienced what those are like.

Never having gone on such a tour myself, however, I did like experiencing how the mother/daughter conflicts sorted themselves out by the end. 4.5 stars.

 
***

REVIEW: I’LL BE SEEING YOU, BY ELIZABETH BERG

Elizabeth Berg’s father was an Army veteran who was a tough man in every way but one: He showed a great deal of love and tenderness to his wife. Berg describes her parents’ marriage as a romance that lasted for nearly seventy years; she grew up watching her father kiss her mother upon leaving home, and kiss her again the instant he came back. His idea of when he should spend time away from her was never.

But then Berg’s father developed Alzheimer’s disease, and her parents were forced to leave the home they loved and move into a facility that could offer them help. It was time for the couple’s children to offer, to the best of their abilities, practical advice, emotional support, and direction—to, in effect, parent the people who had for so long parented them. It was a hard transition, mitigated at least by flashes of humor and joy. The mix of emotions on everyone’s part could make every day feel like walking through a minefield. Then came redemption.

I’ll Be Seeing You charts the passage from the anguish of loss to the understanding that even in the most fractious times, love can heal, transform, and lead to graceful—and grateful—acceptance.

 
 
 

I’ll Be Seeing You was a tender tale of a family journey. From youth to the end of life and all of the wonderful and sometimes painful moments in between, I felt connected to the very real characters in the story.

I could relate to some of my own travels along the way, from the excitement and joy of first love to the losses of aging that seem to be endless, as one leaves behind one way of life via a series of mini-losses that feel deeply sad and lonely. But also offer the kinds of new beginnings that take adjustment but can feel like more opportunities for growth.

The beautifully written memoir kept me engaged completely as I could almost feel myself going along for the ride. A poignant story with very real lessons to be learned about what lies ahead. 5 stars.

 
***

REVIEW: THE LOST AND FOUND BOOKSHOP, BY SUSAN WIGGS

There is a book for everything . . . Somewhere in the vast Library of the Universe, as Natalie thought of it, there was a book that embodied exactly the things she was worrying about.

In the wake of a shocking tragedy, Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s charming but financially strapped bookshop in San Francisco. She also becomes caretaker for her ailing grandfather Andrew, her only living relative—not counting her scoundrel father.

But the gruff, deeply kind Andrew has begun displaying signs of decline. Natalie thinks it’s best to move him to an assisted living facility to ensure the care he needs. To pay for it, she plans to close the bookstore and sell the derelict but valuable building on historic Perdita Street, which is in need of constant fixing. There’s only one problem–Grandpa Andrew owns the building and refuses to sell. Natalie adores her grandfather; she’ll do whatever it takes to make his final years happy. Besides, she loves the store and its books provide welcome solace for her overwhelming grief.

After she moves into the small studio apartment above the shop, Natalie carries out her grandfather’s request and hires contractor Peach Gallagher to do the necessary and ongoing repairs. His young daughter, Dorothy, also becomes a regular at the store, and she and Natalie begin reading together while Peach works.

To Natalie’s surprise, her sorrow begins to dissipate as her life becomes an unexpected journey of new connections, discoveries and revelations, from unearthing artifacts hidden in the bookshop’s walls, to discovering the truth about her family, her future, and her own heart.

The Lost and Found Bookshop was a wonderfully layered story about the past, the present, and the possibilities of the future. The bookshop setting pulled me in right away, and I could imagine myself curled up in the cozy chairs and window seats, with the San Francisco streets and scenes around me. Having lived in San Francisco for a while when I was young, I wanted to join these characters as they explored the world around them…and through the books they read.

Natalie was a character I enjoyed, and I was rooting for her as she went through her losses and started over in her mother’s bookshop. The great “handyman” who helped repair the shop was someone I would have loved to know, too, and I enjoyed watching Natalie slowly come to connect with him. The famous author who came to do a book signing to help them bring in more customers was fascinating, too, with his secrets and sorrows.

Dorothy was such a delightful child character, and I hoped she would always be a part of Natalie’s life.

The lost things discovered within the shop turned out to be a great boost to the characters’ lives and to the story. I knew a happy ending was coming. I loved this book and did not want to leave the characters behind. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: RETURN TO VIRGIN RIVER, BY ROBYN CARR

Kaylee Sloan’s home in Southern California is full of wonderful memories of the woman who raised her. But the memories are prolonging her grief over her mother’s recent death. A successful author, Kaylee hoped she could pour herself into her work. Instead she has terrible writer’s block and a looming deadline.

Determined to escape distractions and avoid the holiday season, Kaylee borrows a cabin in Virgin River. She knows the isolation will help her writing, and as she drives north through the mountains and the majestic redwoods, she immediately feels inspired. Until she arrives at a building that has just gone up in flames. Devastated, she heads to Jack’s Bar to plan her next steps. The local watering hole is the heart of the town, and once she crosses the threshold, she’s surprised to be embraced by people who are more than willing to help a friend—or a stranger—in need.

Kaylee’s world is expanding in ways she never dreamed possible. And when she rescues a kitten followed by a dog with a litter of puppies, she finds her heart opening up to the animals who need her. And then there’s the dog trainer who knows exactly how to help her. As the holidays approach, Kaylee’s dread turns to wonder. Because there’s no better place to spend Christmas than Virgin River.

From the very beginning of Return to Virgin River, I felt a connection to Kaylee and her life. As she settles into Virgin River, trying to deal with her grief and push forward with the book she is writing, I was caught up in her feelings and her goals.

Meeting townsfolk helped her begin the healing process, and then connecting to Landry, who was her landlord, brought out other forgotten emotions. The possibility of love.

The author’s descriptions of the setting, the characters who lived in Virgin River, and telling their stories as they all formed a community for Kaylee brought out a sense of a real place with real people. I love Humboldt County, so I felt as if I was there with these characters, many of whom were in the previous book.

I read the book in one day, as I could not put it down. I hope to rejoin these characters again. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: CONFESSIONS ON THE 7:45, BY LISA UNGER

Be careful to whom you tell your darkest secrets…

Selena Murphy is commuting home from her job in the city when the train stalls out on the tracks. She strikes up a conversation with a beautiful stranger in the next seat, and their connection is fast and easy. The woman introduces herself as Martha and confesses that she’s been stuck in an affair with her boss. Selena, in turn, confesses that she suspects her husband is sleeping with the nanny. When the train arrives at Selena’s station, the two women part ways, presumably never to meet again.

But days later, Selena’s nanny disappears.

Soon Selena finds her once-perfect life upended. As she is pulled into the mystery of the missing nanny, and as the fractures in her marriage grow deeper, Selena begins to wonder, who was Martha really? But she is hardly prepared for what she’ll discover.
 
 
 
 


Our story begins after Selena discovers her husband’s latest infidelity via nanny cam. In an unexpected action, she shares her feelings with a woman she meets on her homeward commute in a situation that has a “stranger on the train” vibe. Afterwards, she asks herself why she would do that, but admits that she felt a unique connection to the woman. A good listener, perhaps?

As Confessions on the 7:45 unfolds, we learn, via alternating narrators, the secrets of several assorted characters, all of whom seem completely unrelated to one another. Along the way, we begin to suspect that these lives will eventually intersect, and as we start to piece the puzzle together, the odd connections begin to make sense.

I loved another surprising reveal at the end as the characters walked off into the “sunset” to a place familiar to Unger fans. A delightful and intense book that held me hostage throughout. 5 stars.
 
 
***