Mid-Century London is the setting at the beginning of More Than You Know: A Novel. The author paints a lush backdrop for this period piece, showcasing the times as they were. Sweeping from the fifties into the early seventies, we are gifted with a peek into the lives of Londoners who are privileged and well-born; and alongside them, we see the hard working blue collar class, with some notables who pull themselves up by their own efforts.

Against this backdrop, we view the issues of the times: women struggling to find their place in the world of work, while men are forced to reexamine their own views of the roles of men and women. Front and center in this tale are Eliza Fullerton-Clark and Matt Shaw, two people from different worlds drawn together by their passion. Two people whose values are so different that one wonders how they lasted as long as they did. Their child is the glue that holds them together for a good part of their marriage, and in the end, the child will become the centerpiece in an ugly and destructive custody battle.

All the supporting characters were intriguing in their own way, from Scarlett, Matt’s sister, to Mariella, a beautiful socialite that Eliza met while working on a fashion magazine. The careers, relationships, and how these characters were swept along with the times, showing us their interior and exterior worlds, kept me glued to the pages, even as I sometimes grew impatient with their behavior and their thinking.

Vincenzi has a way of delving into the gritty lives of the characters, and as the marriage between Eliza and Matt disintegrates, she depicts how the characters have come to some realizations about the institution and what befalls it:

“Marriages do not suddenly drop dead; they expire slowly, from a thousand cutting words, a million misunderstandings, from an unwillingness to apologize to a willingness to take revenge. There is a dawning–slow at first, then gathering pace–that things are not as they were and moreover not as they should be, that responses are not what is hoped for, that disappointment is more frequent than delight, that resentment is more persistent than forgiveness, all remarked upon and brooded over and then stored angrily away. Desire dies; affection withers; trust becomes a memory.”

As I finished the story and felt that glow that comes with a satisfying ending, I knew that I had revisited a season of change in the lives of the characters that mirrored those felt by any of us who lived through those times. I could feel again what it was like to experience the passions, desires, and ambitions that burst upon us all when traditions were cast aside in favor of new ideas. Four stars.


Sixteen-year-old Lucy lives two lives: the one at home, where she escapes to her room as a refuge from the rest of her house; and the one at school, with a best friend and possibly a boyfriend, neither of whom can ever come to her house, because Lucy’s mother Joanna is a hoarder. Not just someone who collects a lot of stuff, but someone who is gradually burying herself and her family in the cave of treasures she accumulates by ordering off the shopping network, going to every tag sale around, and bringing it all home with her.

The space is narrowing every day, with toppling stacks hovering in every available part of each room and blocking the hallways. The kitchen is filled with garbage and decaying food; the room reeks of putrefying things. In the living room, Joanna sits watching TV. She is angry, frustrated, and takes out her feelings on Lucy when she cannot find something. She, too, lives another life as an oncology nurse, kind and loving to her patients.

Is there any escape from the devastating mess and the terrifying isolation that locks these two individuals within a cocoon of horror?

Out of nowhere, seemingly, something does happen: a tragedy that fuels Lucy’s panic and propels her into a desperate sort of action. She sees that the only solution is to clean up the mess before she calls for help. Paced in increments of time marking the next 24 hours, we see Lucy’s futile attempt to make a dent in the morass of her life. And then…almost as if she is guided by some unseen force, she takes one final action to change her world forever.

Hauntingly emotional, pulling the reader right into the desperation that marks Lucy’s life, Dirty Little Secrets is a poignant reminder of the horrors of an existence that can claim the vulnerable and separate them from others.

The writer’s style and pace kept me turning those pages, but I would have enjoyed seeing more interaction between Lucy and Joanna before everything changed. Flashbacks give the reader a glimpse of what life might have looked like before the horror it became, and there were defining moments that apparently set the stage for what Joanna became, but the motivation seemed nebulous. Hoarding as a mental health disorder is definitely getting a lot of attention these days, and this rendition showed the teen point of view very well. Four stars.


Suki Piper has returned to London after a decade long escape to New Zealand. Specifically, she has come back to the old neighborhood in Notting Hill, where her family lived for the first eight years of her life. A place full of memories, some that feel like bits and pieces of surreal images, while others hint at mysterious goings-on that she has struggled for years to piece together and understand.

Soon Suki is once again enmeshed with members of the Wright family: Peggy, the matriarch; Pippa, the daughter who was once a teen babysitter for Suki; and Harold, the strange and sometimes condescending son. These former neighbors lived in an upstairs flat above the basement where the Pipers lived, and now Peggy lives there alone.

As Suki floats from place to place, sleeping on friends’ couches, she begins to reach out to Pippa, feeling totally disconnected from everyone else, and realizing that friendships she left behind are not so easily resumed. Her old friends seem distant and disinterested.

So when Pippa asks Suki to stay with Peggy, who is in failing health, while her family goes to Greece for vacation, Suki agrees. Where else will she go?

What follows are a series of flashbacks, taking the reader from the present to the past and back again. Suki’s first person narrative carries the reader into her early childhood memories, the time in New Zealand, and the strange memories that haunt her about a long-ago time before her father’s abandonment of the family.

How does an old air-raid shelter in the backyard figure into Suki’s half-formed and surreal memories? Who is “the girl below” and what is her significance in Suki’s life? What must Suki do to finally sort out the strange moments and what they mean to her life in the present, and how do they connect to questionable things in the past?

I found myself totally absorbed in Suki’s dilemmas, especially her feelings of isolation and disconnect from people and places. Her father’s abandonment, followed a few years later by her mother’s death, left her feeling unmoored. Rudderless, as if her life had no meaning and she had no significant connections to anyone. Her quest for a feeling of belonging through a series of love affairs and the endless pursuit of the euphoric high of drugs felt appropriate for someone who has not dealt with her issues of abandonment and loss. I was pleased at how Suki was eventually able to finally put the past into its place and form a starting point for a new future. The Girl Below: A Novel was a surreal journey into one somewhat narcissistic woman’s psyche, and at times, was a bit self-pitying. Four stars.


When Andi met Ethan in her thirties, she knew he was just the man she’d been waiting for…and the fact that he had two daughters already felt like the icing on the cake. Andi had always wanted a family.

But family life did not unfold in the way that Andi had anticipated, and their “blended” family began to feel more like a chaotic cauldron of warring temperaments and unsolvable conflicts. At the heart of these conflicts was Ethan’s teenage daughter Emily, whose histrionic behavior and horrific tantrums began to define their daily lives. Sophia, on the other hand, despite being the youngest, presented as calm, mature, and easily loved.

Because Ethan had a neutral kind of personality, he found himself constantly mediating between Andi and Emily; and in trying to calm Emily down during her tantrums, he appeared to be taking her side.

Something happens during Emily’s seventeenth year that changes the dynamics and direction of this family. How will these unexpected events unfurl and cause them all to take another look at things? And what will be the ultimate outcome?

In the beginning, I could see much of the story through Andi’s eyes, and felt her frustration for Emily.

Toward the middle, the author brought Emily’s point of view into play through alternating chapters in first person narrative voice, so finally I could understand some of what she was feeling.

To say more would be bringing spoilers into the mix, so I will only add that I sometimes couldn’t breathe with the intensity of emotions churning up within Another Piece of My Heart. I could understand each of the characters, even as I felt frustrated with most of them at one point or another. In the end, I liked the way things came together, and while I hoped–and even expected–they would play out this way, the ending gave me a very good feeling.

Five stars!


Welcome to another special Waiting on Wednesday event, hosted by Jill, at Breaking the Spine.  Every Wednesday, we enjoy sharing our enthusiasm for upcoming book releases.

My feature today is a novel that I’m very excited about.  Keepsake, by Kristina Riggle, is a timely and provocative novel that asks:  What happens when the things we own become more important than the people we love?

To be released June 26, 2012

Amazon blurb: 

Trish isn’t perfect. She’s divorced and raising two kids—so of course her house isn’t pristine. But she’s got all the important things right and she’s convinced herself that she has it all under control. That is, until the day her youngest son gets hurt and Child Protective Services comes calling. It’s at that moment when Trish is forced to consider the one thing she’s always hoped wasn’t true: that she’s living out her mother’s life as a compulsive hoarder.

The last person Trish ever wanted to turn to for help is her sister, Mary—meticulous, perfect Mary, whose house is always spotless . . . and who moved away from their mother to live somewhere else, just like Trish’s oldest child has. But now, working together to get Trish’s disaster of a home into livable shape, two very different sisters are about to uncover more than just piles of junk, as years of secrets, resentments, obsessions, and pain are finally brought into the light.


I can’t wait to read this story!  The issues speak to that part of us that clings to sentimental objects.  It also addresses an unmet need seemingly satisfied by the treasures we keep.

What are you waiting for?  I hope you’ll stop by and share….


On June 3, 2005, in Corvallis, Oregon, three-year-old Karly Sheehan died after being abused and tortured.

In A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder, the author, an investigative journalist, details the events leading up to this death, including the numerous failures of the system along the way.

Karly’s parents, David and Sarah Sheehan, were divorced, and although David, an Irish immigrant, was the primary caretaker, the two alternated care. Sarah’s relationship with Shawn Wesley Field was the turning point in Karly’s life, but the ability of Sarah to deflect, to charm her way out of uncomfortable situations, and her apparent narcissism, were factors that did not end up in criminal charges against her in the end. Shawn Field was held on numerous counts and found guilty. He is serving a lengthy sentence.

Because the author had known and even cared for Sarah for a period of time during her teens, she felt a vested interest in the events and spent a great deal of time compiling facts of the case when writing this memoir.

Because of her relationship with Sarah, she knew the young woman’s flaws and did not buy into the “victim” stance afforded Sarah during the trial.

It was only after the trial that the author even learned of Karly’s death, as she had not been living in Corvallis at the time. The fact that Sarah did not reach out to her, or the very strange manner in which she reported the death to the author when she happened to run into her one day, set off red flags. Why had Sarah not protected her daughter? How did she so readily turn a blind eye to what was happening to her daughter?

Other questions certainly arose during her investigation and had arisen during the trial: why had the system failed to take certain steps to ensure the child’s safety? And how had Karly’s case fallen through the cracks?

April is Child Abuse Protection month, and it behooves us all to be more aware of the most vulnerable members of society.

In this quote, the author provides some statistics:

“Every five hours, a child in the U. S. dies from abuse or neglect, according to a 2011 investigation by the BBC journalist Natalia Antelava. The U.S. has the highest child abuse record in the industrialized world. America’s child abuse death rate is triple Canada’s and eleven times that of Italy…”

As a retired social worker and child protective services professional, I have encountered many alarming cases over the years. One would think I might become desensitized to the abuse, but, in fact, the opposite is true. Throughout Zacharias’s story, I found myself tearing up over and over at the alarming facts of the case. In telling Karly’s story, the author flashed between the past and present to weave in details of David’s story, as well as Sarah’s, showing the reader the very real characters and how their lives and choices impacted the victimized child. I found the reference to the protectiveness of mockingbirds an example of how far we, as humans, have yet to go to reach that level of safekeeping. Five stars.


I was provided a review copy by the publisher, which, in no way, has impacted my review of this book.


Circling back and forth between the 1970s and the present, Atkinson’s novel Started Early, Took My Dog: A Novel spotlights themes of murder, missing children, and the secrets that police officers, social workers, and others cling to for many years.

Jackson Brodie is a recurring character in Atkinson’s series, and in this story, he is fervently seeking answers to one young woman’s true identity. What he doesn’t expect is that many others will be searching for many of the same individuals, but for different reasons.

What events connect Tracy Waterhouse, Linda Pallister, Len Lomax, and other assorted individuals? How do a series of murders from the 1970s add to the mysteries in current day Leeds?

Throughout this very layered and complex story, and even as a series of red herrings threw me off course at times, I was quite glued to the pages, wondering what would happen next and how everything would tie together.

At times I felt confused, as the numerous characters, some minor, but more significant in the end, often left me scratching my head. But I loved this story, and would recommend it to anyone who has enjoyed any of the books in this series: therefore, four stars.


Entering the dream world of our protagonist, Trace/Ianthe, is like slipping between reality and fantasy.

An abused child whose poor grip on reality is balanced, at times, by her superior intelligence, Trace Pennington reinvents herself as Ianthe Covington, and enters college. There she manages some kind of normalcy, but lives in an abandoned farmhouse with her dog Weeds, barely existing except in the academic life she seemingly relishes.

When she meets and falls in love with a professor, Jacob Matthias, she drops out (in her senior year) and is seemingly absorbed into his life. But his dark secrets collide with her own and send her spiraling downward until, in flashes of memory or fantasy, we’re not sure which, she recalls the tragic finale to her childhood life and family.

Disturbing, intellectually challenging and gripping, Iodine: A Novel portrays the interior world of a psychotic woman, even as it gradually reveals the brutal, bizarre childhood that defined her.

This story sometimes had me spinning on the edge of reality, confused at times by Trace/Ianthe’s voice; in the end, I concluded that her perspective is her reality. The slippage of time, events, and the blurring between the past, the present, and some fantasy world…all combine to depict this young woman’s psyche and what defined her. Yet throughout, the reader can never know what is real, what is imagined, and what is simply the product of a disturbed mind.

Kimmel writes with brilliant prose and imagery, but I found this story confusing. However, I recommend it to those who revel in family dysfunction, and mental illness, and award it four stars.


The relationship between a mother and a daughter can be conflicted and tenuous at best. Sometimes the ties that bind are slippery slopes that, upon closer scrutiny, reveal how much the mother’s disappointments are reflected back to her when she gazes at her daughter.

When the author of Unraveling Anne begins her story, she jolts the reader with the fact of her mother’s tragic end immediately. She describes how others react to the word. She says:

“My mother was murdered.

“It’s a shocking word, murdered. I don’t like to use it. But it is the truth. Murder is the only word that honestly describes her death. So sometimes, when someone asks what happened to my mother, instead of holding onto this word, toying with the small pain of it as if it were a loose tooth, I go ahead and spit it out. No matter how many times I do, no matter how many people I tell, the raw strangeness of the fact of my mother’s death never changes….”

Thus begins the chronicling of a life, by first reenacting her death. Years before, when the author first learned of the tragedy, she was living on the opposite coast; her journey to deconstruct her mother’s life and death begins twenty years later with a visit to LA and an examination of the murder book.

Saville’s descriptions of growing up in LA in the sixties and seventies and the ongoing party that was her mother’s life are interspersed with tales of her mother’s beauty, her art, and how the daughter felt proud of her in those moments. But as the party guests morph from artists, musicians, and celebrities to street people, and as Anne’s drinking consumes her life, there now remains an eerie and gritty detritus that shows little resemblance to what once was. The beautiful model, designer, and golden girl has toppled into disarray.

The moments of pride fade away, and the author recalls “taking care of herself,” but she adds that this necessity helped her develop self-reliance. There was also a supportive presence of a grandmother nearby, along with the libraries where she found comfort after school, and even teachers who built up her self-esteem.

So the story continues, as the author resurrects her childhood and those memories, and then goes deeper into an examination of her mother’s life. She is startled to discover at some point that the grandparents who were the stopgap caretakers were also the two who first helped “create” the fears, insecurities, and demons that taunted her mother. And the generation before them had its own role in the damage inflicted. In understanding those who came before, the author begins to understand and accept who she is, in spite of, and because of, her mother.

In the haunting cover photo, in which the photographer is carrying out the mother’s wish to create “income-producing models or actors,” we see the tattered theater seats set up by the photographer who displayed, along with the author (as a child), the “detritus of my mother’s modeling days—dresses with beads falling off, bright boas that left feathers floating in the air, floppy hats with bent flowers on the brims—”

A gritty, revelatory exploration that was occasionally difficult to follow, as it jumped around chronologically, I still could not put it down. I am awarding this memorable memoir four stars.


Emmy Rane is a young woman grief-stricken by the loss of her baby girl. It happened one day when she went inside and left the baby outdoors…and from that moment on, her life seemingly unravels. Her desperate search leads to her hospitalization in what can best be described as a very restricted environment.

Meanwhile, in another time and place, a young fourteen-year-old girl named Sophie Marks is living her own restricted life, hidden away indoors and homeschooled by a very secretive mother who pulls up stakes and moves frequently. Sophie’s first attempts to reach out and forge an individual life for herself comes when she meets the boy next door and his “aunts” who read regularly and joyfully. A glimpse of this life opens up the world for Sophie and gives her the courage to begin uncovering her mother’s secrets.

It isn’t much of a mystery that these two lives will converge at some point, but the tale told in alternating perspectives is a captivating character-driven portrait of each young woman’s journey and how freedom and joy are finally achieved.

Emmy and Sophie were wonderfully detailed characters whose individual voices showed the emotional landscape they lived. I enjoyed You Are My Only so much that I wanted it to go on longer.

The denouement was completely satisfying and brilliantly portrayed, even as I wondered if it would happen at all. Therefore, I’m giving this one five stars.