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.

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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.
 
 
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REVIEW: TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH, BY GILLY MACMILLAN

Lucy Harper’s talent for writing bestselling novels has given her fame, fortune and millions of fans. It’s also given her Dan, her needy, jealous husband whose own writing career has gone precisely nowhere.

Now Dan has vanished. But this isn’t the first time that someone has disappeared from Lucy’s life. Three decades ago, her little brother Teddy also went missing and was never found. Lucy, the only witness, helplessly spun fantasy after fantasy about Teddy’s disappearance, to the detectives’ fury and her parents’ despair. That was the start of her ability to tell a story—a talent she has profited from greatly.

But now Lucy’s a grown woman who can’t hide behind fiction any longer. The world is watching, and her whole life is under intense scrutiny. A life full of stories, some more believable than others. Could she have hurt Teddy? Did she kill Dan? Finally, now, Lucy Harper’s going to tell the truth.

Cross her heart.

And hope to die.

Immediately I was caught up in the thrilling story spun in To Tell You the Truth. Lucy is a novelist, and she and her “imaginary friend” and muse, Eliza, intrigued me as I followed along with the adventures they shared.

Alternating between the past and the present, Lucy’s tale kept me glued to the pages. I felt an instant dislike of Dan, who seems to be gaslighting Lucy, as well as controlling her life, even her finances. I began to suspect him of so many possible nefarious deeds, but I also needed to consider that Lucy was not the most reliable narrator.

What happened to little Teddy all those years ago? And what has become of Dan in the present?

Has Dan been having an affair with Sasha? Some of Sasha’s actions are also suspect, so I wanted to know more as I turned the pages. As the darkness descends, we are not sure what will come of these characters, but I knew I wanted to hang out with them more.

I loved the short chapters and how the narrative flowed so smoothly. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: MONOGAMY, BY SUE MILLER

 

Graham and Annie have been married for nearly thirty years. A golden couple, their seemingly effortless devotion has long been the envy of their circle of friends and acquaintances.

Graham is a bookseller, a big, gregarious man with large appetites—curious, eager to please, a lover of life, and the convivial host of frequent, lively parties at his and Annie’s comfortable house in Cambridge. Annie, more reserved and introspective, is a photographer. She is about to have her first gallery show after a six-year lull and is worried that the best years of her career may be behind her. They have two adult children; Lucas, Graham’s son with his first wife, Frieda, works in New York. Annie and Graham’s daughter, Sarah, lives in San Francisco. Though Frieda is an integral part of this far-flung, loving family, Annie feels confident in the knowledge that she is Graham’s last and greatest love.

When Graham suddenly dies—this man whose enormous presence has seemed to dominate their lives together—Annie is lost. What is the point of going on, she wonders, without him?

Then, while she is still mourning him intensely, she discovers that Graham had been unfaithful to her; and she spirals into darkness, wondering if she ever truly knew the man who loved her.

From the very first page of Monogamy, I was captured by the prose, the characters, and the settings, in which I could imagine myself walking along with Annie and Graham, as their story unfolds. A bookstore, a beautiful gallery of photographs, and a cottage by a lake in Vermont to which Annie retreats after Graham’s death.

The small details of a life are presented in a way that grabbed me, and I could feel the moments that had defined them. I could see Annie in her childhood, go back with them to their first meeting, and remember with Annie how they built a home and a life, while raising the children.
Reconnecting with people from the past, and reliving those poignant bonds left an indelible mark.

As Annie moves through her days and weeks, the past rises to confront her and comfort her. Can she mourn the loss without going back in time to all that defined her? As Annie struggles to move beyond the death and the discovery of the betrayal, she learns to accept it all and rediscover the love they shared. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: DON’T LOOK FOR ME, BY WENDY WALKER

One night, Molly Clarke walked away from her life.

She doesn’t want to be found.

Or at least, that’s the story.

The car abandoned miles from home.

The note found at a nearby hotel.

The shattered family that couldn’t be put back together.

They called it a “walk away.”

It happens all the time.

Women disappear, desperate to leave their lives behind and start over.

But is that what really happened to Molly Clarke?

 

 

On Day One, we see Molly Clarke driving in the rain, thinking about the sadness of her life: her losses, her remaining two children who seem to wish she weren’t there at all, and the emptiness of her marriage.

She has just left her son Evan’s game at school and watched him look away from her, dismiss her, pretend she wasn’t there.

Driving toward home, she keeps going, as if she has no destiny. And then she runs out of gas on a stretch of road. She sees a gas station 30 feet away, but as she walks toward it, she realizes it is boarded up. Empty. Like her life.

When a truck drives by with what she thinks is a man and his daughter, and they pull over, offering her a ride, she doesn’t really hesitate…

What then begins is a nightmare.

Will Molly ever go home again? The man takes her to a house instead of the police station where she wanted to go. He makes empty promises about phoning for help…and she is soon a prisoner.

Meanwhile, back home, Molly’s daughter Nicole is searching for her. She doesn’t believe that her mom just walked away, and too many pieces of the story don’t make sense.

We watch the tale unfold between Nicole and Molly, back and forth in alternating narratives.

Who is the man holding Molly hostage? Why are the police and other residents of the small town of Hastings where Molly’s car and supposed “note” were found telling tales that don’t make sense? Is it a conspiracy? Or is it even more dark and evil?

I kept trying to figure out who the players were and how they connected to Molly and Nicole, so as the answers began to come, I was breathless with anticipation. Don’t Look for Me was a brilliant 5 star read.

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

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BOOK REVIEW: THE SWITCH, BY BETH O’LEARY

When overachiever Leena Cotton is ordered to take a two-month sabbatical after blowing a big presentation at work, she escapes to her grandmother Eileen’s house for some long-overdue rest.

Eileen is newly single and about to turn eighty. She’d like a second chance at love, but her tiny Yorkshire village doesn’t offer many eligible gentlemen.

So they decide to try a two-month swap.

Eileen will live in London and look for love. She’ll take Leena’s flat, and learn all about casual dating, swiping right, and city neighbors. Meanwhile Leena will look after everything in rural Yorkshire: Eileen’s sweet cottage and garden, her idyllic, quiet village, and her little neighborhood projects.

But stepping into one another’s shoes proves more difficult than either of them expected. Will swapping lives help Eileen and Leena find themselves…and maybe even find true love? In Beth O’Leary’s The Switch, it’s never too late to change everything….or to find yourself.

 

The Switch was such a delightful way for these two women to change their lives, just by swapping them out for a couple of months. For Eileen, in the countryside, approaching her eightieth birthday, there would be few chances for the kind of adventure she needed.

For her granddaughter Leena, who was burned out at work and struggling with the loss of her sister Carla, a new perspective was sadly needed.

In alternating chapters, Leena and Eileen switch voices, sharing their thoughts and adventures as they navigate the lives they have adapted.

Each brought something unique to their new circumstances…and found something hidden within themselves. Can Eileen find love again? Will Leena discover that what she thought she wanted isn’t it at all?

I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in the lives of these characters, enjoying their discoveries and their deepest thoughts. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE END OF HER, BY SHARI LAPENA

 

A long-ago accident—and a visitor from out of the blue. . .

Stephanie and Patrick are adjusting to life with their colicky twin girls. The babies are a handful, but even as Stephanie struggles with the disorientation of sleep deprivation, there’s one thing she’s sure of: she has all she ever wanted.

Then Erica, a woman from Patrick’s past, appears and makes a disturbing accusation. Patrick had always said his first wife’s death was an accident, but now Erica claims it was murder.

Patrick insists he’s innocent, that this is nothing but a blackmail attempt. Still, Erica knows things about Patrick—things that make Stephanie begin to question her husband. Stephanie isn’t sure what, or who, to believe. As Stephanie’s trust in Patrick begins to falter, Patrick stands to lose everything. Is Patrick telling the truth—is Erica the persuasive liar Patrick says she is? Or has Stephanie made a terrible mistake?

How will it end?

Who is telling the truth in The End of Her? Or will there be plenty of liars to go around?

Just when I thought I knew who to believe, another twist would come out of nowhere, and I would be stunned again.

One thing for sure, I knew I hated Erica. But is Patrick truly innocent? And what about Stephanie? She seems so sweet, and as if she could do no wrong. But are there unexpected dark depths to her?

The story takes us to the past while also plunging forward into the future to show what lies ahead for these characters.

Enough said. Saying more would spoil the tale, so suffice it to say, your head will be spinning by the time this story concludes. 5 brilliant stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NIGHT SWIM, BY MEGAN GOLDIN

Ever since her true-crime podcast became an overnight sensation and set an innocent man free, Rachel Krall has become a household name—and the last hope for people seeking justice. But she’s used to being recognized for her voice, not her face. Which makes it all the more unsettling when she finds a note on her car windshield, addressed to her, begging for help.

The new season of Rachel’s podcast has brought her to a small town being torn apart by a devastating rape trial. A local golden boy, a swimmer destined for Olympic greatness, has been accused of raping the beloved granddaughter of the police chief. Under pressure to make Season 3 a success, Rachel throws herself into her investigation—but the mysterious letters keep coming.

Someone is following her, and she won’t stop until Rachel finds out what happened to her sister twenty-five years ago. Officially, Jenny Stills tragically drowned, but the letters insist she was murdered—and when Rachel starts asking questions, nobody in town wants to answer. The past and present start to collide as Rachel uncovers startling connections between the two cases—and a revelation that will change the course of the trial and the lives of everyone involved.

A small town in North Carolina is the centerpiece of The Night Swim, focused on a current rape trial and a possible murder twenty-five years before.

As the story sweeps back and forth in time, we are led along by Rachel’s narrative, Hannah’s mysterious letters, and bits of Rachel’s podcast as she documents the current trial.

It doesn’t take long to see that many characters are interwoven into both stories, reminding us that the past can follow us into the present, as the secrets and crimes are untangled and revealed.

With an intensity that is enhanced by the short chapters and the fast pace, I sometimes felt confused by how many similarities existed between the separate events. Were these facts coincidental, or were many of the players repeating their bad behavior in the present?

One thing I’ve learned about small town life is how desperately the people depend on friends, and even enemies over whom they have leverage, and as a result, they sometimes escape justice. 5 stars.

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

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REVIEW: THE GIRL FROM WIDOW HILLS, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

 

Everyone knows the story of “the girl from Widow Hills.”

Arden Maynor was just a child when she was swept away while sleepwalking during a terrifying rainstorm and went missing for days. Strangers and friends, neighbors and rescue workers, set up search parties and held vigils, praying for her safe return. Against all odds, she was found, alive, clinging to a storm drain. The girl from Widow Hills was a living miracle. Arden’s mother wrote a book. Fame followed. Fans and fan letters, creeps, and stalkers. And every year, the anniversary. It all became too much. As soon as she was old enough, Arden changed her name and disappeared from the public eye.

Now a young woman living hundreds of miles away, Arden goes by Olivia. She’s managed to stay off the radar for the last few years. But with the twentieth anniversary of her rescue approaching, the media will inevitably renew its interest in Arden. Where is she now? Soon Olivia feels like she’s being watched and begins sleepwalking again, like she did long ago, even waking outside her home. Until late one night she jolts awake in her yard. At her feet is the corpse of a man she knows—from her previous life, as Arden Maynor.

And now, the girl from Widow Hills is about to become the center of the story, once again, in this propulsive page-turner from suspense master Megan Miranda.


When we first meet Arden Maynor in her current iteration as Olivia Meyer, she is an adult trying to move beyond the events of her childhood. As The Girl from Widow Hills, she is the story in the news, the little girl who was rescued after three days. One from whom journalists constantly seek more information.

Did nobody really believe the story they were told back then? Does Olivia not remember what happened, or is she part of a cover-up?

When a man is found dead outside her home miles away from where she grew up, in the place she has found to start over, is there more to the original story that will be revealed?

I loved how twisty and unexpected the journey takes us until finally we are offered bits and pieces of the truth. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: STRANGER IN THE LAKE, BY KIMBERLY BELLE

When Charlotte married the wealthy widower Paul, it caused a ripple of gossip in their small lakeside town. They have a charmed life together, despite the cruel whispers about her humble past and his first marriage. But everything starts to unravel when she discovers a young woman’s body floating in the exact same spot where Paul’s first wife tragically drowned.

At first, it seems like a horrific coincidence, but the stranger in the lake is no stranger. Charlotte saw Paul talking to her the day before, even though Paul tells the police he’s never met the woman. His lie exposes cracks in their fragile new marriage, cracks Charlotte is determined to keep from breaking them in two.

As Charlotte uncovers dark mysteries about the man she married, she doesn’t know what to trust—her heart, which knows Paul to be a good man, or her growing suspicion that there’s something he’s hiding in the water.

 

Stranger in the Lake opens upon Charlotte’s happy new life, married to wealthy Paul Keller and living in a beautiful home. She loves the sense of security, having grown up in trailer parks without enough food. But there are things she still doesn’t know about her husband, who doesn’t share what happened with his first wife and how she died.

Now, just as Charlotte is hoping to eventually learn more, she finds a dead woman floating in the lake at their dock. Too many coincidences make Charlotte begin to question her husband and the fact that his first wife was also found in the lake. His friendships with others who are very secretive increase her concerns about what happened in the past. And now Paul has mysteriously gone away during the initial investigation, and Charlotte finds herself having to try to fill in the blanks for him.

We see glimpses of the past in alternating narratives. What are Paul and his friends hiding, and what do their secrets have to do with the dead woman? Eventually more is revealed as the tension increases, with unexpected twists unfolding. The ending wrapped up a little too smoothly, but most of the questions were answered. 4 stars.

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