REVIEW: MS. DEMEANOR, BY ELINOR LIPMAN

Jane Morgan is a valued member of her law firm—or was, until a prudish neighbor, binoculars poised, observes her having sex on the roof of her NYC apartment building. Police are summoned, and a punishing judge sentences her to six months of home confinement. With Jane now jobless and rootless, trapped at home, life looks bleak. Yes, her twin sister provides support and advice, but mostly of the unwelcome kind. When a doorman lets slip that Jane isn’t the only resident wearing an ankle monitor, she strikes up a friendship with fellow white-collar felon Perry Salisbury. As she tries to adapt to life within her apartment walls, she discovers she hasn’t heard the end of that tattletale neighbor—whose past isn’t as decorous as her 9-1-1 snitching would suggest. Why are police knocking on Jane’s door again? Can her house arrest have a silver lining? Can two wrongs make a right? In the hands of “an inspired alchemist who converts serious subject into humor” (New York Times Book Review)—yes, delightfully.

an interior journey thoughts

 

From the very first pages of Ms. Demeanor, I was caught up in the events that turned a tale about house arrest into a journey toward food and love. It was a delightful romantic story with lots of interesting detours and characters.

Our journey takes us from a vicious woman with binoculars to other residents of the apartment building hoping to arrange a green card marriage. I quickly turned the pages until the very satisfactory ending. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: A GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD, BY THERESE ANNE FOWLER

In Oak Knoll, a verdant, tight-knit North Carolina neighborhood, professor of forestry and ecology Valerie Alston-Holt is raising her bright and talented biracial son, Xavier, who’s headed to college in the fall. All is well until the Whitmans—a family with new money and a secretly troubled teenage daughter—raze the house and trees next door to build themselves a showplace.

With little in common except a property line, these two families quickly find themselves at odds: first, over an historic oak tree in Valerie’s yard, and soon after, the blossoming romance between their two teenagers.

A Good Neighborhood asks big questions about life in America today—what does it mean to be a good neighbor? How do we live alongside each other when we don’t see eye to eye?—as it explores the effects of class, race, and heartrending love in a story that’s as provocative as it is powerful.
 
 
 
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As we follow the people living in A Good Neighborhood, we learn about their current lives and background stories, just as we begin to pick sides. All of us will have favorites, but mine were the characters Valerie and Julia, although the teenagers Xavier and Juniper seemed to pull at the heart of the tale and brought the sharpest focus on the issues. Brad Whitman, the rich man who seemed to control the neighborhood, was beyond unlikable. His behavior set the tone for the neighborhood’s dark side.

Issues of race, the environment, wealth, and poverty…all that we see in contemporary America, flowed through the story and tugged at our emotions.

I couldn’t stop reading, turning the pages rapidly, and I was so glad I chose this book for my First Book of the Year. 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: THE LAST INVITATION, BY DARBY KANE

Over the last few years, prominent people—a retired diplomat, beloved basketball coach, the CEO of an empire—have died in a series of fluke accidents and shocking suicides. There’s no apparent connection, no signs of foul play. Behind it all is a powerful group of women, the Sophie Foundation, who meet over wine and cheese to review files of men who behave very, very badly, and then mete out justice.

Jessa Hall jumped at the mysterious, exclusive invitation to this secret club. The invite comes when she’s at her lowest, aching for a way to take back control. After years of fighting and scratching to get ahead, she’s ready for a chance to make the “bad guys” lose. Jessa soon realizes, though, just how far she’s willing to go and how dangerous this game has become.

Once in the group, it’s impossible to get out. She has nowhere to turn except former friend Gabby Fielding who is investigating the mysterious death of her ex-husband. Aligned in their goal to take down the Foundation, Gabby and Jessa need each other but working together doesn’t mean they trust each other…or that either will survive to tell the truth.

 

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When old college friends Gabby and Jessa reconnect in their adult lives in The Last Invitation, we are thrust into a sinister world of women meting out a form of justice to those deserving of this punishment.

Our characters alternate in their narrative of their lives and how they end up in this unique situation, and just when we think we understand all the ins and outs of the group, we learn how deadly it can be.

How will Gabby and Jessa fare as they fight the demands of the foundation, and will they find a way to move beyond the secrets of the past?

A tantalizing tale that held me in its grip all the way through, earning 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: ARE YOU AWAKE?, BY CLAIRE MCGOWAN

With two young children, Mary hasn’t slept in what feels like years. For his part, Tim never feels safe enough to sleep. And so one hot, exhausting night, the two strangers meet while seeking solace in a nearby park. There, they witness something horrific: a violent attack in the window of a neighbouring house.

Bonded by what they’ve seen, Tim and Mary are desperate to find answers. And when they see news reports of a missing woman who was last seen walking alone not far from them, the pair are convinced it’s her they saw being attacked—no matter what the police say.

But with her marriage under strain and the police on their tail, Mary begins to doubt her own mind…and Tim’s. And as the pair are drawn into a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, the culprit appears to be even closer to home than they thought. Have they got it all wrong, or is something even more sinister going on?

an interior journey thoughts

 

From the very beginning of Are You Awake?, I was drawn into the lives of two primary characters, Mary and Tim, who have trouble sleeping at night and find themselves noticing odd happenings in the neighborhood. Like sleuths, they follow the clues, try to involve the police, but with no results, and eventually are in danger for their lives.

Just when we think we have it figured out, there are more twists and turns, and the drama surrounding them all intensifies. Finally in the heat of extreme danger, answers come. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: SECLUDED CABIN SLEEPS SIX, BY LISA UNGER

What could be more restful than a weekend getaway with family and friends? An isolated luxury cabin in the woods, spectacular views, a hot tub and a personal chef. Hannah’s generous brother found the listing online. The reviews are stellar. It’ll be three couples on this trip with good food, good company and lots of R & R.

But the dreamy weekend is about to turn into a nightmare.

A deadly storm is brewing. The rental host seems just a little too present. The personal chef reveals that their beautiful house has a spine-tingling history. And the friends have their own complicated past, with secrets that run blood deep.

How well does Hannah know her brother, her own husband? Can she trust her best friend? Meanwhile, someone is determined to ruin the weekend, looking to exact a payback for deeds long buried. Who is the stranger among them?
 
 
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Alternating narrators tell the story of Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six. Friends are looking forward to time away from work and some irritating events in their lives, each of them sharing bits of their stories. Then there are narrators not part of the group, unknown to the reader until later in the tale. Their bits and pieces reminded me of horror in the making, not sure of their roles in events unfolding in that cabin. Are they connected in any way to the friends in the cabin?

Even the six friends have secrets that slowly begin to show us more about the nightmare that is coming their way.

What will we learn about them all as we await the answers? How do the Origins DNA kits they got the previous Christmas reveal more information? And will the storm unleashing turn everything upside down in their lives? As we near the end, things begin to click into place and hope is on the horizon. 5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: THE GIRLFRIEND, BY K.L. SLATER

My husband’s dead. She’s at my door. She owns my home…

The doorbell rings, just days after my beloved husband’s sudden death. I don’t recognise the woman on our doorstep, with her buttery blonde highlights, a diamond bracelet identical to my own and a bouncing baby boy in her arms.

As I show her inside, I notice her eyes grow wide as she takes in our spacious hallway, and the big squashy sofas that we all used to pile on. She glances at the silver-framed family photos and my little daughter hiding behind my skirts.

She looks at me, her blue eyes serious. ‘I’m sorry’ she says. ‘I know this will be hard to hear. But I am your husband’s girlfriend. And this is his son.’

My world implodes. And then she tells me that she owns our home – and that she’s not going anywhere…

an interior journey thoughts

Jennifer’s nightmare life begins when her husband dies in a tragic accident, but the true disastrous events happen when The Girlfriend appears on her doorstep. Sara arrives with her baby boy Rory, who she claims is Cole’s son, and tells an unbelievable story about how she and Cole were planning a life together, and that the beautiful home is all hers. That she loaned money to him and everything is in her name.

Her proposal is that they both live in the house together, and if they can manage that, she won’t kick Jennifer and her kids out.

If Jennifer thought everything was bad before, living with this woman who has her own agenda will rip her life apart in unexpected ways. Jennifer tries to strike back and does her own research. Can she find an answer? Or will Sara win? 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: BIG SHOT, BY JULIE MULHERN

Ellison and Anarchy Jones are looking forward to a relaxing weekend in the country. Time spent skeet shooting, fishing, and horse-back riding with friends. Hours spent swaying in a shady hammock without friends.

But when Ellison walks into a murder scene, her friends become suspects. And each of them has an excellent motive for murder.

Can Ellison sift through the lies and unmask a killer, or will a weekend away cost her everything she holds dear?
 
 
 
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Just when we think Ellison and Anarchy will enjoy some time away with friends, Ellison stumbles upon first one body and then another. Finding bodies seems to be her thing.

Naturally she has to help navigate the investigation with her husband, even after he is laid up with a snake bite. While he recovers, she plows ahead anyway.

What does she discover as she pursues questioning and observing? Big Shot is another intense thriller that earned 5 stars for me.

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REVIEW: HOME TRUTHS, BY TINA SESKIS

A strong marriage can cope with the unexpected. But can it survive the unimaginable?

American nanny Eleanor was never meant to meet Alex. But when she walks into his London police station to report a stalker, everything changes for them both. He’s convinced he can protect her from anything and anyone. She hopes her darkest days are behind her.

As they settle into their life together, two hundred miles away another young couple faces an uncertain future. Christie knows Paul is a decent man, but she can’t shake a clairvoyant’s warning: ‘Never trust your husband . . .’ When a work trip tests their bond, will she overcome her fears for the sake of her family?

Ten years later, both couples are still together, for better or worse. But as doubts and resentments begin bubbling steadily to the surface, all four of them start to question the choices they’ve made.
At least the secrets they all brought into their marriages are still well hidden.

For now.

an interior journey thoughts

As we follow the journey of two couples over the years, Home Truths seems to be a story that will eventually reveal how these couples’ lives intersect at some point. The narrative moves back and forth between them, and most of the time we don’t think about how they might connect with one another.

But then something unexpected happens that brings their lives crashing together, and we are stunned that we didn’t see it all along.

A story that definitely kept me intrigued. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: MAD HONEY, BY JODI PICOULT & JENNIFER FINNEY BOYLAN

Olivia McAfee knows what it feels like to start over. Her picture-perfect life—living in Boston, married to a brilliant cardiothoracic surgeon, raising their beautiful son, Asher—was upended when her husband revealed a darker side. She never imagined that she would end up back in her sleepy New Hampshire hometown, living in the house she grew up in and taking over her father’s beekeeping business.

Lily Campanello is familiar with do-overs, too. When she and her mom relocate to Adams, New Hampshire, for her final year of high school, they both hope it will be a fresh start.

And for just a short while, these new beginnings are exactly what Olivia and Lily need. Their paths cross when Asher falls for the new girl in school, and Lily can’t help but fall for him, too. With Ash, she feels happy for the first time. Yet at times, she wonders if she can trust him completely. . . .

Then one day, Olivia receives a phone call: Lily is dead, and Asher is being questioned by the police. Olivia is adamant that her son is innocent. But she would be lying if she didn’t acknowledge the flashes of his father’s temper in Ash, and as the case against him unfolds, she realizes he’s hidden more than he’s shared with her.

Mad Honey is a riveting novel of suspense, an unforgettable love story, and a moving and powerful exploration of the secrets we keep and the risks we take in order to become ourselves.

 

an interior journey thoughts

From the first pages of Mad Honey, I was captivated. The story pulled me in with its insights about family issues that are so emotional, from single parenting to young love that goes wrong. Told alternately between the main characters, we are swept back and forth in time until finally we are on tenterhooks about what will ultimately happen to each of them. We know there are aspects of the story that will not end well, but we keep pushing along, hoping for something that will remind us of how these events reflect real life in all of its disturbing elements and yet which show us characters and their strengths as they cope with it all.

I won’t say more so as not to spoil the unfolding for readers. Instead, I want to share the pleasure I found in the strengths even as I teared up at the sadness of those left behind. A five star read for me.

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REVIEW: THE SILENT WOMAN, BY MINKA KENT

Newlywed Jade Westmore has finally found her forever in husband Wells, a charming, successful, and recently divorced architect—only there’s one caveat. Behind the gates of their elysian estate, hidden from street view in the caretaker’s cottage … lives Wells’ first wife, Sylvie.

Three years ago, the original Mrs. Westmore suffered an unfortunate accident—and hasn’t uttered a sound since. Not a physician, psychologist, or world-renowned specialist has been able to elicit so much as a word from the silent woman … until now.

On an ordinary Tuesday while Wells was away—despite instructions to never disturb the fragile woman—Jade visited her isolated predecessor bearing a peace offering: a bouquet of white lilies. Only she wasn’t expecting Sylvie to have something for her as well: a slip of torn notebook paper with a single word scrawled in shaky black ink.

 

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The Silent Woman takes the reader through the perspectives of the current wife, Jade, and Sylvie, the now silent woman. We learn more as we follow the journey of each of them.

Why would Sylvie tell Jade to “run” when she visits at the guest house? Is there a deep dark secret just waiting to change her life?

As Jade learns more about Wells’ mother Mary Claire and also gets to know others in Sylvie’s life, her interest in previous events takes her down an unexpected pathway. What she learns will change her life as well as Sylvie’s. A story that kept me rapidly turning pages and earned 4.5 stars.

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