REVIEW: THE FRIENDS WE KEEP, BY JANE GREEN

 

Evvie, Maggie, and Topher have known one another since college. Their friendship was something they swore would last forever. Now years have passed, the friends have drifted apart, and they never found the lives they wanted—the lives they dreamed of when they were young and everything seemed possible.

Evvie starved herself to become a supermodel but derailed her career by sleeping with a married man.

Maggie married Ben, the boy she fell in love with in college, never imagining the heartbreak his drinking would cause.

Topher became a successful actor, but the shame of a childhood secret shut him off from real intimacy.

By their thirtieth reunion, these old friends have lost touch with one another and with the people they dreamed of becoming. Together again, they have a second chance at happiness…until a dark secret is revealed that changes everything.

 

My Thoughts: I was definitely in the mood for The Friends We Keep, as there is something so heartfelt about Jane Green’s friendship tales. I also love how she paints pictures of the settings, the food, and the events in a way that makes me feel as if I’m there with the characters.

A story that spans decades, this book shows the characters as they struggle, as they soar during the good times, and then how their feelings of betrayal come to the forefront when dark secrets are revealed.

In the end, the friendships are tested in a familiar way, and we are left with good feelings, even though real life would have given them more challenges along the way. An enjoyable read that earned 4.5 stars from me, despite the predictable elements.

***

REVIEW: AFTER NIGHTFALL BY A. J. BANNER

 

Imagine your closest friend utterly betraying you. Years later, when she seeks forgiveness, you invite her to your engagement party as a gesture of reconciliation. But seething hostilities rise to the surface, ruining everyone’s evening. After an awful night, your friend’s battered, lifeless body is found at the bottom of a rocky cliff.

Newly engaged Marissa Parlette is living this nightmare. She should be celebrating her upcoming wedding, but she can’t shake the image of her friend lying dead on the beach. Did she fall? Was she pushed? Or did she take a purposeful step into darkness? Desperate for answers, Marissa digs deep into the events of the party. But what she remembers happening after nightfall now carries sinister implications: the ugly sniping, the clandestine meetings, the drunken flirtations. The more she investigates, the more she questions everything she thought she knew about her friends, the man she once trusted, and even herself.

 

My Thoughts: After Nightfall begins with a scene in which Marissa’s old friend Lauren is flirting with her fiancé at their engagement party. After watching the scene play out, I just knew that there would be so many layers to this story, especially as we learn more about the history between Marissa and Lauren from years before.

But once Lauren is found dead, the answers will never come…or so we believe. But Marissa is determined to probe the events of that evening and the many other questionable happenings from the past forward.

Who can Marissa trust? She begins to feel betrayed by everyone, including her fiancé, and even as we start to guess the answers, we will be completely gobsmacked by the final lines of the book, which will start our questions all over again.

Marissa’s first person narrative kept me following along with great intensity, anxious for answers, sorting through possible scenarios. Even when I thought I finally had them, I suspected that there might be more to the story. I was riveted to the pages, rubbing my eyes with fatigue when I couldn’t stop reading, and in the end, I still wanted more. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE NEW NEIGHBOR, BY LEAH STEWART

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Margaret Riley has enjoyed a long life, and at ninety is sometimes annoyed with the people around her, eschewing contact with most people while lost in her own memories.

So when she notices a new neighbor across the pond, she is caught off guard. The home had been empty for a while, and Margaret had come to count on that.

But she is curious about the younger woman, who has a small child, and finds out who she is in a rather surreptitious way. And arranges for them to meet when the librarian in the village points out the younger woman’s “work wanted” ad.

Jennifer Young and four-year-old Milo have left a past behind them, and hiding the secrets of that past now informs Jennifer’s life. Another mother, Megan, whose son Ben is in Milo’s preschool class, is reaching out to Jennifer. Worried about how much she can share, Jennifer is sometimes tense and often short in her responses.

Set in mountainous Sewanee, in Tennessee, the isolation could be just what each of these characters needs. But will their slowly building connection force their secrets into the open? Will each of them lose the protection of those secrets? Or will something unexpected come to them?

The New Neighbor is told alternately with multiple narrators, primarily from the first person voice of Margaret, and Jennifer’s third person perspective. Slowly we learn about each character, the lives they have lived, and what led them to keeping the secrets they now hope to keep hidden. As the secrets slowly come out, layer by layer, they seem less devastating, in some ways. Less startling.

But then, when Margaret starts to stir the pot, stepping into what is not her business, she unleashes a whole new drama that will impact all the characters.

I enjoyed Margaret and felt for her loneliness, but soon I was disgusted with her meddling. Jennifer was trying to move past the pain of her life with an addict and the betrayal of her daughter Zoe. And Zoe was probably just a typical teen, reacting without thinking.

They all had to accept the consequences of their actions.

A story that I could not put down, this one earned 5 stars from me. Recommended for all who enjoy family drama and secrets.

I received this e-ARC from NetGalley.

REVIEW: CROOKED LITTLE LIES, BY BARBARA TAYLOR SISSEL

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Lauren Wilder is the first character we meet in “Crooked Little Lies,” as she drives on the interstate feeder, having taken a wrong turn. We can immediately feel that something is wrong with her…there is a disorientation, a confusion, so when she describes the man she sees walking along the road, the fact that he is familiar to her is not that unusual.

Bo Laughlin is a familiar character to the residents of the small Texas town, Hardys Walk, and his quirkiness is sometimes more pronounced than at other times. But one thing is true: he is the stepbrother of Annie Beauchamp, a young woman who works in the café in town, and the two of them have something in common: their mothers are dead.

What we will learn about Lauren will change everything about how we view her. Can we believe any of her thoughts and perceptions? The man she sees, and how she watches him get into a strange car, could have been an imagining…but then someone else, Cooper Gant, saw the same thing. Where is Bo now, and is he in danger?

Meanwhile, as more of Lauren’s past comes to light (the horrible accident that left her with a brain injury and memory issues, and her subsequent abuse of pain pills), we can understand some of what she is experiencing. She is clean now, but her husband Jeff is like a hall monitor with her, and sometimes his approach seems insulting. Could he have been manufacturing some of the episodes he tells her about? Was Jeff just stressed out, or were his unlikeable characteristics just the tip of the iceberg? Were Lauren’s two kids, Drew, 14, and Kenzie, 11, at risk?

Then there is Tara, Lauren’s sister, whose involvement with Greg, a known drug addict, could be somehow connected to what happened to Bo.

The more characters I met, the more suspicious I was of everyone, and before everything finally came together, I suspected that the shadow of suspicion cast on Lauren would turn out to be someone’s trick. But whose?

As the events unfolded, the suspense kept me rapidly turning pages, not knowing who to trust or believe. With the final reveal, I felt vindicated. And happily satisfied with how it all turned out. Yes, I had pretty much guessed who was behind it all, but seeing just how it all came together was fun to watch. 4.5 stars.

I received a copy of the e-Arc from NetGalley.

REVIEW: SOMEONE IS WATCHING, BY JOY FIELDING

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Bailey Carpenter believes that she is happy in her job as an investigator for a law firm in Miami. Surveillance is something she does well, and she especially loves testifying in court on the cases she has worked.

But one night, while watching an apartment for her target, she is attacked and raped. Her attacker was wearing a mask, and she has been unable to identify him.

Used to feeling in control, Bailey is ill equipped to deal with the aftermath, unable to leave her apartment, and most days, unable to leave her bed.

Meanwhile, after their father’s death four months before, a battle ensues between the half-siblings, as the older five, who were disinherited, file a lawsuit against Bailey and Heath.

So when her oldest half-sister, Claire, starts stopping by to lend moral support, Bailey has to wonder. Is Claire hoping to develop a sisterhood bond, or is there a hidden agenda?

Heath sinks lower and lower into a lifestyle of drugs, being no support to Bailey at all, as she deteriorates. She develops more signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, feeling as if someone is stalking her, calling in the night and hanging up, and everywhere she looks, she sees men who might be her rapist.

Is Bailey really seeing and hearing the things she believes she sees and hears, or is she hallucinating? Is she imagining the phone calls in the night, or is she dreaming? A surreal sense of unreality surrounds her days and nights, as she wanders sleeplessly through her world.

Bailey and Jade, Claire’s daughter, were the most interesting characters, while Heath was annoying and entitled. And the oldest half-brother, Gene, was pompous and bitter. As Someone Is Watching: A Novel unfolded, I was surprised by the inevitable reveals, even as I knew that something more nefarious than just the rape was going on. Definitely a 4 star read.

REVIEW: I LOVE YOU MORE, BY JENNIFER MURPHY

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When Oliver Lane is murdered in the beach house on Cooper’s Island that he shares with his wife Diana, all kinds of secrets and betrayals are unleashed.

Like the two other “wives” that Oliver has been hiding: Julie and Bert.

But when Detective Kyle Kennedy meets with each of the women, they both plead ignorance of the existence of the others.

What did they really know? And what is Diana’s daughter Picasso hiding?

I Love You More: A Novel is narrated by multiple characters: Picasso, Detective Kyle Kennedy, and a “we” voice that speaks for the wives. There is also a section with Oliver’s voice.

We begin to discover just who knew what and when, and we also enjoy getting to know Picasso in her coming-of-age journey. After some time has passed, and when the women meet for a reunion, we learn that nothing is as it seems, and that sometimes we keep secrets from ourselves.

Set in North Carolina, the story takes the reader into the cities all around the area, and we see firsthand what the characters’ lives looked like, before and after.

I liked that Picasso and her dad had a special relationship, one that focused on a mutual interest in words and their meanings, as well as the forming of new words. A skill that Picasso takes with her, one that helps her navigate her life. Something that will help her heal after all the secrets come to light. I enjoyed this story, but I didn’t love it. Therefore, 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: UNBECOMING, BY REBECCA SCHERM

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Grace and Riley met in middle school, in their home town of Garland, Tennessee, and forever after were connected. Other friends, like Alls Hughes or Greg Kimbrough would make up their small group, but the bond between Grace and Riley was strong, and extended to the bond between Grace and his parents. The Grahams treated Grace as if she were their own daughter.

Which worked out great for Grace, who felt like an afterthought to her own parents.

Our story, Unbecoming: A Novel, begins in Paris, with Grace posing as a girl named Julie, who lies about her name, her past, and where she is from. Grace/Julie is afraid that her past will catch up to her. Because three years before, Riley, Alls, and Greg were arrested for burglarizing the Josephus Wynne Historic Estate in Garland. And the burglary was Grace’s idea.

The tale is told in the mostly third-person narrative of Grace, so we primarily view events from her perspective. We learn about her childhood, her friends, and how she and Riley came to be. How they even began a secret marriage, even though she had strong feelings for Riley’s best friend Alls. And how she started college in New York, and what happened to derail that adventure.

The story behind the art heist is an interesting one, and the convoluted plan that ended up with Grace hiding out in Paris and the boys in prison, only recently paroled, is one that kept me turning the pages.

Will Grace reconnect with Riley? Will the truth about her feelings come out? And how will her perceived betrayal change things for them all?

The book’s title was intriguing, in that it suggests a kind of unraveling; instead of “becoming” who she could be, it seems that Grace is moving backward from a good place to one of moral degradation. The events of the story reveal much about her character and how she failed to overcome the obstacles and trials of life, leaning more and more toward the dark side. A fascinating exploration that I will not soon forget. And in the end, even though Grace seems to be living her dream, there is that persistent hole in her heart, the absence of a mother’s love.

Poignant and captivating, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though there were aspects of the storytelling that could have been better. The unfolding of the tale zigzagged a bit too much, leaving some holes, in my opinion. But this one earned 4.0 stars from me, and I recommend it for those who enjoy a good study of characters in the process of coming undone.


REVIEW: SAVING GRACE, BY JANE GREEN

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They were the envy of all who knew them: Ted, the bestselling author, and his wife, Grace, a food editor and on the board of a home for abused women. They lived in Sneden’s Landing, near Manhattan, in a gorgeous home sometimes featured in magazines.

But behind closed doors, there were cracks in the façade that showed up in the form of Ted’s temper and in Grace’s vulnerability. A vulnerability based on her fear of turning into her mentally ill mother, a secret she has carefully kept for years.

When Ted’s beloved assistant Ellen leaves to go stay with her sick mother, they hire Beth, who comes to them with high recommendations…or so they think.

What happens next is the stuff of nightmares. Will everything in Grace’s world crumble around her before the nightmare ends? Why is everything turning upside down? Why is the psychiatrist Ted recommended saying such impossible things to her? And how will she finally save herself before her life is over?

Will going home to her native England help her sort out her life and discover the truth? Will Lydia, the mother figure she has cherished from her past, help her sort things out?

A page-turner that I could not put down, Saving Grace aroused every imaginable emotion and then some, and even as I suspected some of what might be going on long before any of the characters did, that fact did not in any way detract from my enjoyment. I was totally engaged and loved the characters of Grace, Sybil, and Lydia…and loathed both Ted and Beth.

The settings of the homes and their décor also drew me in, as I love visualizing the scenes in the books I read. Jane Green has really done it with this one, in my opinion. Her fans, as well as any readers who love drama that touches on mental health issues, will love this book.

The only thing I didn’t enjoy were the recipes after several of the chapters. For foodies, however, those could be a plus. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE SILENT SISTER, BY DIANE CHAMBERLAIN

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Riley MacPherson’s family has suffered numerous losses, and the troubled history that seemingly hovers over them all is about to get a lot worse. Leaving behind her stable life in Durham, where she is a school counselor, she takes a leap into the past, returning home to New Bern after her father’s death, to settle up his estate. There she finds her angry brother Danny living in his reclusive trailer in the forest, and even though she tries to reach out to him, he keeps her at arm’s length.

The task of going through her father’s things will be hers alone, as Danny refuses to be part of it. An old friend of her mother’s, Jeannie Lyons, is an irritating addition to her life as she sorts through everything, and between Jeannie and her daughter Christine, who are readying the home for estate sales, etc., Riley feels overwhelmed and annoyed with their very presence.

But as Riley begins to search through her father’s effects, more questions appear, and she begins to wonder about the family’s hidden secrets and the lies that stood between her and the family she longed for. And suddenly, her connection to Jeannie changes, as more is revealed.

What is the truth behind older sister Lisa’s supposed suicide? What lies under the surface of Lisa’s privileged life as a music prodigy? How did their father manage to change the course of all of their lives by one series of actions? And who is Jade, living across the country in an alternate life?

Riley’s story is narrated in her first person voice, in the year 2013, while Jade’s narrative takes place in the 1990s, following one secret night that changed all of their lives.

How will their lives reconnect, and what threats still await them all? A wonderfully unputdownable story, The Silent Sister is a testament to the strength of family attachments in spite of the secrets that lie beneath the facades. Set in North Carolina, occasionally veering off into Virginia and then to San Diego and Seattle, I followed the characters on their journeys. I loved this story, and would recommend it for all Chamberlain fans, and for any who enjoy a good story of family secrets, lies, and deceptions. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: NANTUCKET SISTERS, BY NANCY THAYER

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Emily and Maggie met as children on Nantucket Island. Maggie lived there year-round, while Emily came for the summers. They were so close that they called themselves Nantucket Sisters: A Novel.

Ben, Maggie’s brother, is two years older, and Emily has had a crush on him since childhood.

Slowly, over the years, we watch as time and life changes them. Maggie goes away to college, and so does Emily, but to different universities, their paths only crossing occasionally. Emily’s relationship with Ben becomes deeper over time, but their differences seemingly pull them apart.

As they reach adulthood, forces consume them, and compromise seems impossible. What secrets and betrayals stand between them? Can anything repair the broken ties?

Maggie’s desire to be a writer keeps her connected to the island, and Emily’s passion for the environment also connects her to that world. Will they finally discover how to resurrect what they’ve lost? What tragedies happen to ultimately reunite them? And what secrets will remain between them?

As the author’s prose painted pictures of the setting and the people, it all seemed like a gift to be unwrapped slowly. I loved the author’s descriptions of the island, from the homes to the waves against the shore. The parties seemed to invite me in, welcoming me as if I were in attendance. But what truly engaged me was the strength of friendship in spite of mistakes and the knowledge that even broken trust can be repaired. The ending was triumphant and a bit predictable, but heart-warming. 4.5 stars.