REVIEW: AFTER ANNA, BY LISA SCOTTOLINE


 

Dr. Noah Alderman, a widower and single father, has remarried a wonderful woman, Maggie Ippolitti, and for the first time in a long time, he and his young son are happy. Despite her longing for the daughter she hasn’t seen since she was a baby, Maggie is happy too, and she’s even more overjoyed when she unexpectedly gets another chance to be a mother to the child she thought she’d lost forever, her only daughter Anna. 

Maggie and Noah know that having Anna around will change their lives, but they would never have guessed that everything would go wrong, and so quickly. Anna turns out to be a gorgeous 17-year-old who balks at living under their rules, though Maggie, ecstatic to have her daughter back, ignores the red flags that hint at the trouble brewing in a once-perfect marriage and home. 

Events take a heartbreaking turn when Anna is murdered and Noah is accused and tried for the heinous crime. Maggie must face not only the devastation of losing her daughter, but the realization that Anna’s murder may have been at the hands of a husband she loves. In the wake of this tragedy, new information drives Maggie to search for the truth, leading her to discover something darker than she could have ever imagined. 


My Thoughts: Alternating narratives take the reader back and forth in time through the riveting pages of After Anna.

How could their lives have turned upside down so quickly? And how could they have seen any of it coming? Is Maggie in denial about her husband…or about her daughter? Has Noah made some foolish choices that have come back to haunt him?

As I rapidly turned the pages, I came to my own interpretation of events, some of which I took away from years of working with dysfunctional families and with people who have completely opposing versions of the truth. In this case, there are at least two sides to the truth…but then there can also be an unexpected player in this family tragedy.

From the beginning, I did not like Anna, but understood how Maggie could be fooled by her. After all, she was suffering from the guilt of having lost her child in infancy. Now she has to make up for their losses, which means that she has blinders on and misses all the red flags.

Noah did not do himself any favors when he failed to share his own qualms…but then again, a man in this scenario is often unaware of the manipulations going on around him.

Just when we thought all was settled, albeit not very happily, we are thrown off course by some startling revelations that changed everything we thought we knew. As a result, we enjoyed a very satisfactory conclusion. 5 stars.


***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.
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COFFEE CHAT: BOOKS, MOVIES, ETC.

Welcome to another Coffee Chat, featuring our bookish and not so bookish thoughts, hosted by Bookishly Boisterous.

The weather has turned mild again, with 70-something temperatures.  No rain for several days, but while we had the rain, I found my reading mojo again…and so far this week, I’ve read and reviewed three books and I’m well into my fourth.  Two were NetGalley ARCs:  The Good Liar, by Catherine McKenzie and Other People’s Houses, by Abbi Waxman; (click for my reviews).  The third was a library book:  Map of the Heart, by Susan Wiggs (click for my review).

  • Now I’m reading and loving another library book:  Her Every Fear, by Peter Swanson.
  • I’m slowly learning the ins and outs of navigating Libby @Overdrive.  Figuring out how long I have to wait for each book.  So far, I’ve already downloaded three books as “loans.”
  • Son #2 took a road trip this week with his three kids, Alec, Aubrey, & Aaron; here’s a shot of them at the Grand Canyon…beautiful setting!

  • Here are Brett and two of the kids taking selfies:

 

  • I thought my youngest grandson (age 15) would be spending the weekend, but he’s going to his dad’s instead.  That works, as now I won’t have to scramble to arrange activities during the Easter weekend.
  • Speaking of Easter, I loved finding adorable photos of my great-grandniece, Margaret, who looks ready for spring in this one:

  • And doesn’t she look grown up in this shot?  Is that hot chocolate?

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How is your week shaping up?  Do you have plans for the weekend?

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REVIEW: LOOK FOR ME, BY LISA GARDNER

 

The home of a family of five is now a crime scene: four of them savagely murdered, one—a sixteen-year-old girl—missing. Was she lucky to have escaped? Or is her absence evidence of something sinister? Detective D. D. Warren is on the case—but so is survivor-turned-avenger Flora Dane. Seeking different types of justice, they must make sense of the clues left behind by a young woman who, whether as victim or suspect, is silently pleading, Look for me.

My Thoughts: A multi-layered story, Look for Me takes the reader along on a journey to find a killer and a missing girl.

Our narrators are D. D. Warren, a detective with the Boston P.D., and Flora Dane, the famously abducted woman held captive for 472 days…and who now has taken on a vigilante role. But she also helps other young women to protect themselves and move on.

The three children in the Baez family spent time in foster care, during which they were abused by other teens in the home. By the time their mother got them back again, they were broken and damaged, but hoping for a better life. Nothing worked out the way they had planned, for they were thrust, once again, into the school where their enemies from care could keep torturing them.

Who had killed the four members of a family? Why did the oldest girl, Roxanna, run? Did she have anything to do with the killings? Or had she somehow escaped, but would become the next target? Did the time in foster care have something to do with the killings? Was someone worried about possible charges being brought against the abusers in the home?

I enjoyed trying to figure out who could have killed the family, and I liked how D. D.’s mind worked in trying to eliminate suspects and zero in on the perpetrator(s).

Flora, whose first person narrative brought the reader into her mind and her thoughts, was interesting and likable, except to D. D., who mostly wished she didn’t have to keep her in line while she “helped.”

Alternating with the other POVs was a journal kept by Roxanna, which helped the reader piece together her experiences while in foster care. And at the very heart of the story, was the unexpected perpetrator who seemed the least likely one. A riveting story that earned 5 stars for me.***

REVIEW: THE ALMOST SISTERS, BY JOSHILYN JACKSON

 

Superheroes have always been Leia Birch Briggs’ weakness. One tequila-soaked night at a comics convention, the usually level-headed graphic novelist is swept off her barstool by a handsome and anonymous Batman.

It turns out the caped crusader has left her with more than just a nice, fuzzy memory. She’s having a baby boy—an unexpected but not unhappy development in the thirty-eight year-old’s life. But before Leia can break the news of her impending single-motherhood (including the fact that her baby is biracial) to her conventional, Southern family, her step-sister Rachel’s marriage implodes. Worse, she learns her beloved ninety-year-old grandmother, Birchie, is losing her mind, and she’s been hiding her dementia with the help of Wattie, her best friend since girlhood.

Leia returns to Alabama to put her grandmother’s affairs in order, clean out the big Victorian that has been in the Birch family for generations, and tell her family that she’s pregnant. Yet just when Leia thinks she’s got it all under control, she learns that illness is not the only thing Birchie’s been hiding. Tucked in the attic is a dangerous secret with roots that reach all the way back to the Civil War. Its exposure threatens the family’s freedom and future, and it will change everything about how Leia sees herself and her sister, her son and his missing father, and the world she thinks she knows.

 

My Thoughts: The first person voice of Leia Birch Briggs brings the reader into The Almost Sisters, the story of a young woman with a unique perspective on life; a woman who, as a girl, was often overshadowed by her stepsister Rachel, the blond pretty one. Rachel, who has a picture perfect life, but who is so determined to hold onto what is hers that she bit Leia when they were toddlers for calling Keith, Rachel’s father, “daddy.”

A girl like Leia has to carve out her own unique world and stand proud when others do not understand her. Even with Leia’s success, Rachel condescends and refers to her work as “your drawings.”

So when Rachel starts having marital problems, I wanted to smirk a little.

Meanwhile, in Birchville, Leia’s grandmother Birchie is going through some medical issues, so Leia, newly pregnant, and not having told anyone about her situation, drives to the rescue.

A lovely story that captivated me from the very beginning, I wanted to root for them all, even Rachel, eventually. The flavor of the South drew me in, as each character revealed his or her unique Southern charm…and sometimes meanness.

I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen to them all. Would Leia and her baby daddy reconnect? Would Rachel soften up her hard, mean shell? And how would Birchie’s secret change their lives? 5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE STORY OF ARTHUR TRULUV, BY ELIZABETH BERG

 

For the past six months, Arthur Moses’s days have looked the same: He tends to his rose garden and to Gordon, his cat, then rides the bus to the cemetery to visit his beloved late wife for lunch. The last thing Arthur would imagine is for one unlikely encounter to utterly transform his life.

Eighteen-year-old Maddy Harris is an introspective girl who visits the cemetery to escape the other kids at school. One afternoon she joins Arthur—a gesture that begins a surprising friendship between two lonely souls. Moved by Arthur’s kindness and devotion, Maddy gives him the nickname “Truluv.” As Arthur’s neighbor Lucille moves into their orbit, the unlikely trio band together and, through heartache and hardships, help one another rediscover their own potential to start anew.

My Thoughts: The Story of Arthur Truluv begins with Arthur on an ordinary day, as he goes through his routines. Visiting his late wife Nola’s grave, where he has lunch. It is his way of keeping in touch. He also visits neighboring graves and imagines what the lives of those people were like. He often remembers the moments he and Nola shared as he visits her grave.

One day he meets Maddy at the cemetery, a teenage girl who is isolated and lonely. Her father is isolated, too, still grieving the death of Maddy’s mother, but unable to share his grief with his daughter. Maddy has no friends at school; in fact the other kids often make fun of her.

Lucille, Arthur’s neighbor, reconnected with an old high school friend…but then lost him. She has given up on life now. What can she look forward to now?

Alternating narratives take the reader on the individual journeys of Arthur, Maddy, and Lucille, and reveal how they are beginning together.

An unexpected change in Maddy’s circumstances leads her to accept Arthur’s invitation to move in as his housekeeper.

Nearby, Arthur’s neighbor Lucille invites herself to move in as well. She is one of those people who is bossy and controlling, but gradually she begins to learn, through the example of Maddy and Arthur, that becoming a part of a newly created family means one has to make changes.

I loved how this story showed us the value of young and old joining together to help each other, and to make choices to begin again. As they share their lives, we learn about how unique families are created. Themes of loss, loneliness, and new beginnings kept me reading until the very last page. I will think about this story often. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

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COFFEE CHAT: PAST JOURNEYS…AND LOOKING AHEAD

Good morning!  Let’s grab our coffee and chat.  Join others for this Bookish/Not So Bookish event at Bookishly Boisterous.

The days are cooler, but not enough to turn on the heater.  I’m glad.  I’m also appreciating that we haven’t yet had storms, although they are predicted for the near future.

October and November are busy “birthday” months, between mine, my second son’s, my eldest son’s…and other extended family members.  Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, so I am looking forward to it.  I’ll be joining my daughter with her husband’s family.  Here is last year’s table all ready for the food to be presented.

  • Speaking of interesting or delicious dinners, my daughter and son-in-law drove to the southwest part of the county to dine at The Harris Ranch Restaurant.  It sounds wonderful, right?  But on the way there, you might find yourself choking and coughing from the stench of the ranches/cows/ etc.  My daughter wore this ironic protective gear.

  • Just a few miles farther west of the ranch lies the small town of Coalinga, where I (sadly) lived with my husband and three oldest children from 1971 to 1972.  Fourteen long months that felt like a prison sentence.  LOL.
  • In 1983, there was a devastating earthquake in that town, and as a social worker, I and some colleagues were brought in to help the residents as they struggled through the aftermath.
  • After the earthquake, the rebuilt town was an improved version of where I had lived.  But I will never consider living there again!  Constantly fogged in and surrounded by tumbleweeds and dust, it reminded me of that movie The Last Picture Show.

  • The Harris Ranch Restaurant was built AFTER we left that town; it might have been an incentive to remain (or not).  But before that restaurant rose like a promise on the horizon, there were only two decent places to eat in town.  And two liquor stores.  LOL.
  • Here is my “sad face” while living there:

  • But…without that particular experience, I would not have found the job I had for more than thirty years…and who knows what alternate roads I would have followed?
  • As we head toward Year’s End, I tend to think about the journeys along the way.
  • As for bookish thoughts:  I loved Seven Days of Us and enjoyed The One and Only. (Click titles for reviews).
  • I am currently just finished reading Cold As Ice, Book 6…click for my review.
  • After clearing off my review book shelves a bit, I now have increased my numbers to SEVEN NetGalley books waiting.  But…there are only two for November, and the rest fall into January, April, and May release dates.
  • I do need to cut back on requests!
  • As for purchased books, I have read 101 of those I bought between July 2016 and the present.  Sadly, I keep buying!

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What lies ahead for you?  Where did this week take you?

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REVIEW: LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE, BY CELESTE NG

 

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother – who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When old family friends of the Richardsons attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town–and puts Mia and Elena on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Elena is determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs.

My Thoughts: A beautiful and layered story, Little Fires Everywhere brought out themes of family dynamics, family secrets, and small town life.

Elena Richardson, at the heart of the novel, stands in direct opposition to her tenant, Mia Warren, a single mother and artist: a woman with a nomadic lifestyle and a beautiful daughter Pearl. Their values could not be more different, and when Mia seems to tug at the center of Elena’s family, inexplicably pulling some of her children to her, Elena digs in and starts searching for the dirt she knows is hidden behind Mia’s freewheeling façade.

Izzy, the youngest and most troubled of the Richardson children, gravitates toward Mia, where she finds the acceptance she craves and which is not there for her at home.

Even Lexie, Trip, and Moody, the other Richardson children, soon find something they want in the Warren household. Now it seems as though Mia is the “Pied Piper” for the teens, showing them options they had not considered. She does it all calmly and without intent. It is the pull of the appealing life choices that are anathema in their own family.

The fires of desire and independence are burning amongst the teens, and in the broader life of the community, the town lights up with the burning furor of a custody fight between an upper middle class family and the Asian birth mother who made a mistake. Abandonment, some town members cry out, but advocates for Bebe claim she made the “safe choice” when she couldn’t care for her baby and left her at the fire station.

Before all of the secrets are exposed, another kind of fire is lit…and scorches them all down to the core. A powerful novel full of images and metaphors that ring true. 5 stars.***

 

REVIEW: THE HEIRS, BY SUSAN RIEGER

 

Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him. The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him. In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure.

Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together — Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm — and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor. The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty – a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor’s sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.

My Thoughts: In a non-linear style, the reader learns more about the Falkes family and some of their friends. Dipping into the past, moving forward, and then centering on the issues of the present, The Heirs feels like an in-depth portrait of a family and an era. The back and forth offers an opportunity to learn more about the characters and how they came to be…but at times, the writing style felt like a detached listing of events. Abrupt, dry, and matter-of-fact in its portrayals.

Set in Manhattan, primarily, at the beginning of the 21st Century, we come to learn about the lives of a family, punctuated by the dramatic events. As with most families, there are conflicts…and I thought it was interesting how we slowly learn traits of the grown Falkes sons, as they each face the current dilemma: Harry is a “blurter,” coming out with whatever he is thinking, with no filter. Will tries to be the amiable one, and Sam, the middle child, seems to be neutral about most issues…until suddenly, he seems to rebel. Jack is described as the obnoxious one…and Tom, the baby, has often required looking after by the others.

How they each react to the potential interlopers, the two other putative sons from a different mother, tells us a lot about their characters.

We also learn more about the dynamics of the family members as we see glimpses of the past. I liked learning more about Rupert, about how he met Eleanor, but we also catch a glimpse of his relationship with Vera, the woman who sues the estate. Was he the father of her two sons? Or was there more to the story? A few more surprises pop up along the way, with an ending that left some more questions in a satisfying way. 4 stars.***

COFFEE CHAT: BOOKS, MOVIES, & OBSESSIONS….

Welcome to another Coffee Chat!  Let’s hop on over to Bookishly Boisterous, and link up.

  • Today (August 31), is my DIL’s birthday, exactly one week after her husband’s (my youngest son).
  • A year ago, my granddaughter and I traveled to the northernmost part of the state to visit them and celebrate on their birthdays.  (Below), see the beauty we enjoyed during that trip.

  • This week, I’ve been catching up on my reading.  I finished a print volume that was sitting on my nightstand, as it was too hefty to take with me when I went out.  (Home, by Harlan Coben – click for my review).  Two other books I finished were, of course, Kindle books:  (After She Fell and The Good Daughter).  When I think of how I resisted the Kindle!  Now I can’t imagine life without it.
  • However, occasionally I find hardcover books on the bargain table…and some books I want are not available in the e-book format.  I’m still waiting for my copy of Did You See Melody?, by Sophie Hannah.  I think it must be coming by pony express!  Oops, I just checked the tracking number, and it arrived today!  Yay!

  • Because Bloggiesta is coming (Sept. 21-24), I’ve been working on my Curl up and Read blog.  New theme, header, and background…so far.  I tend to get carried away.
  • My DVR is primed to record two favorite shows tonight:  Younger and The Sinner.  Plus, the movie Jackie.  America’s Queen, one of the books I’m reading (in print format) is about Jackie.
  • See (below), another bookshelf is filling up with recent hardcover purchases.  To the right, in the hallway, you can see my shelves of DVDs.

  • It may be time to do another purge!
  • It’s not that I’m resisting the purge, but the last time I did major culling, it was two years ago, and I literally took away hundreds of books.  I had empty bookshelves in the garage, some of which I’ve given away, too.
  • I do want to continue surrounding myself with shelves of books…so I just have to decide when I have too many.
  • I’ve never been good at deciding the difference between collecting my books…and hoarding them.  I tell myself that, as long as they look nice on the shelves, I’m okay.  LOL.

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So…things to think about.  What are you reading, pondering, or enjoying this week?

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COFFEE MORNING: FAMILY BONDING….& MEMORIES

Good morning, and let’s grab a cup of coffee and chat.  Above, I’ve set my cup down on my Baker’s Rack so I can check out my figurines, like the Wizard of Oz collection that remind me of the journey.  Below, another view of my Wizard of Oz characters that have become a logo for my creations.

 

Coca Cola bears join an assortment of books, mugs, and other bears, like the ones on the bottom shelf.

But…before I get off track, today I’m going back in time, to the place where I grew up.  A place now belonging to my younger brother, who recently enjoyed a visit with his grandchildren there.

Left to Right:  Luc, Gavin, and America, his grandchildren, in the almond orchard:

 

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A close-up of the almond orchard…I recall many walks among these trees….

 

https://laurelrainsnow.wordpress.com/***

My brother, Eldon, his wife, Marie, and three grandchildren:  Gavin, America, & Luc…By the big tree that has been there since I was a kid, and before….

 

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Luc is enjoying a ride…in the background, notice the old barn that was there when I was a kid.  It looks like it hasn’t been painted since then, either, but I know it has been.  It used to be red.

 

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Gavin is taking his turn…

 

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Inside the barn, you’ll find my brother’s shop where he creates Signs by Eldon…and his crew of fans:  Luc, Gavin, America, and wife Marie.

 

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Gavin, playing the piano that was also in this home when I lived here, sometime in the mid-20th Century!

 

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A bonding moment between Marie and America, her youngest grandchild…(and only) granddaughter…

 

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Three generations of females:  Marie, Amy, and America….

 

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I think it might be time for a visit IRL….so I’m planning for a getaway to the Northern Central Valley soon.

What do you love about your family moments?  Do they tell a story?  Remind you of the past?

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