REVIEW: OUR HOUSE, BY LOUISE CANDLISH

 

When Fiona Lawson comes home to find strangers moving into her house, she’s sure there’s been a mistake. She and her estranged husband, Bram, have a modern co-parenting arrangement: bird’s nest custody, where each parent spends a few nights a week with their two sons at the prized family home to maintain stability for their children. But the system built to protect their family ends up putting them in terrible jeopardy. In a domino effect of crimes and misdemeanors, the nest comes tumbling down.

Now Bram has disappeared and so have Fiona’s children. As events spiral well beyond her control, Fiona will discover just how many lies her husband was weaving and how little they truly knew each other. But Bram’s not the only one with things to hide, and some secrets are best kept to oneself, safe as houses.

 

My Thoughts: In the opening lines of Our House, we are stunned by what Fiona Lawson sees, as she comes home after a few days away: moving vans and a strange family unloading them. They are moving into her house!

Flashback to the previous summer when Fiona caught Bram cheating on her. It wasn’t the first time. So the split would change their lives, but they thought their solution for the children was the perfect one. The so-called Birds’ Nest custody arrangement had the children permanently in the house, with the parents taking turns moving in and out. A flat nearby was where the off-duty parent would stay.

Next, our narrators take us back and forth in time: Bram’s Word doc reveals his story, while Fi’s podcast confessions on The Victim offer her perspective. Slowly we come to discover the intricacies of how Fi ended up losing her house, and what happened to Bram to take them there.

It is not a simple story, and there are so many twists and turns, with a final unexpected one at the end. But this story is not divided into villains and victims…unless we label some of the other parties. But someone has gone to a lot of trouble to unravel their lives. And both Bram and Fi have made choices that led them to this place.

Did the Birds’ Nest arrangement set this family up for what happened? Could secrets and lies from the past have added to their vulnerability? And would the final denouement leave questions unanswered, with more heartache ahead? Rapidly turning pages kept me guessing and wondering, and made me feel empathy for both Bram and Fi. They felt like people who might have been our friends and neighbors. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

REVIEW: LET ME LIE, BY CLARE MACKINTOSH

 

The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They’re both wrong.

Last year, Tom and Caroline Johnson chose to end their lives, one seemingly unable to live without the other. Their daughter, Anna, is struggling to come to terms with her parents’ deaths, unwilling to accept the verdict of suicide.

Now with a baby herself, Anna feels her mother’s absence keenly and is determined to find out what really happened to her parents. But as she digs up the past, someone is trying to stop her.

Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie….

 

My Thoughts: Multiple narrators, including an anonymous one, lead us through Let Me Lie.

I liked trying to decipher the clues that came to Anna in the form of scary messages. Odd events that make her question everything she thought she knew.

Would Anna find the answers to the disturbing events? Would her family secrets be unveiled? What if her past was exposed as a twisted lie?

Murray Mackenzie, the retired detective who worked the case, was an interesting character. I liked how his own personal issues with his mentally ill wife added another layer to the story. He seemed to be a compassionate person, which isn’t necessarily how I see the police. But I liked how he worked, and even how he and his wife Sarah talked about possible scenarios. They felt like a team, and those moments were some of their best.

As the pace sped up, and just when I thought I knew what was happening, unexpected truths were revealed.

Even beyond what I thought was “the end,” another surprise stunned me. I had to read the last line again and again, leaving me with more questions. A 4.5 star read.

***

REVIEW: NOT THAT I COULD TELL, BY JESSICA STRAWSER

 

When a group of neighborhood women gathers, wine in hand, around a fire pit where their backyards meet one Saturday night, most of them are just ecstatic to have discovered that their baby monitors reach that far. It’s a rare kid-free night, and they’re giddy with it. They drink too much, and the conversation turns personal.

By Monday morning, one of them is gone.

Everyone knows something about everyone else in the quirky small Ohio town of Yellow Springs, but no one can make sense of the disappearance. Kristin was a sociable twin mom, college administrator, and doctor’s wife who didn’t seem all that bothered by her impending divorce—and the investigation turns up more questions than answers, with her husband, Paul, at the center. For her closest neighbor, Clara, the incident triggers memories she thought she’d put behind her—and when she’s unable to extract herself from the widening circle of scrutiny, her own suspicions quickly grow. But the neighborhood’s newest addition, Izzy, is determined not to jump to any conclusions—especially since she’s dealing with a crisis of her own.

As the police investigation goes from a media circus to a cold case, the neighbors are forced to reexamine what’s going on behind their own closed doors—and to ask how well anyone really knows anyone else.

 

My Thoughts: A story that could have been ripped from the headlines, Not That I Could Tell was a reminder that secrets, lies, and possible violence could be hiding behind any of the doors in a friendly neighborhood.

From the police and the media presence to the suspicious behavior of several normally sociable neighbors, there is a sense hovering in the neighborhood that nothing will ever be the same in the quiet small town of Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Izzy is new to the neighborhood, and smarting from her own feelings of betrayal when her best friend and potential love interest marries her younger sister. Clara, who hosted the party and who has her own past connections to domestic violence, is suddenly hypervigilant. Then there is Paul, the almost ex-husband of Kristin, moving back into the house after his wife has gone missing…and acting sad and victimized by it all. But what is really behind his behavior? What had happened between them? How would the neighbors learn to cope with events?

As the story winds down and with the police unable to close the case, a few things happen unexpectedly that bring out the final secrets and reveal everything that was unknown. The story was interesting, with some characters I enjoyed…but I figured out much of what was happening long before the end. However, there were some missing pieces that I enjoyed watching unfold. 4.5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE PERFECT ROOMMATE, BY MINKA KENT

 

She’s my roommate.

I know how she takes her tea, how she organizes her closet.

I know when she goes to bed each night, what she eats for breakfast, the passcode on her phone.

I know she calls her mother on Mondays, takes barre on Thursdays, and meets her friends for drinks on Fridays.

But more important than any of that … I know what she did.

 

My Thoughts: The Perfect Roommate is the kind of story that hints at perfection and total compatibility between the two roommates, Lauren and Meadow, but with every page, you sense that drama and darkness are just around the corner.

When Lauren starts giving Meadow some of her clothes and talks her into a hairstyle that mimics her own, I could almost hear the music from “Single White Female,” and I knew we were in for some intense moments ahead.

I wasn’t sure how it would all unfold, but I thought I had it figured out several times over before it started to come together in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

The author’s style kept me rapidly turning pages, and then, just when I thought every last lie and dramatic point had finally revealed themselves, there were teasers ahead for another tempting situation. The story ends with an epilogue that could be a happy ending…or a set-up for more drama. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, although the ending did feel a bit anti-climactic. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: THE LAST MRS. PARRISH, BY LIV CONSTANTINE

 

Amber Patterson is fed up. She’s tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more—a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted.

To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne—a socialite and philanthropist—and her real-estate mogul husband, Jackson, are a couple straight out of a fairy tale.

Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan. Amber uses Daphne’s compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family’s life—the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrishes and their lovely young daughters, and growing closer to Jackson. But a skeleton from her past may undermine everything that Amber has worked towards, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces.

My Thoughts: The first half of The Last Mrs. Parrish is told from Amber’s perspective, and while we know that she is manipulative and has a big plan, one that will take her to the life she wants, there are also hints of a life she left behind. A life full of secrets.

Just when it looks like she is right where she wants to be, the story turns around and we see life from the perspective of Daphne, who is not quite the happy woman she appears to be. Her secrets and what she has done to keep them hidden make everything about this story surreal.

Who is the unreliable narrator? What are Amber’s secrets? And how will the two so-called best friends resolve these issues? I couldn’t stop turning the pages, waiting for the final twist that would bring the future that they each deserved. Would justice finally prevail? A tale that had me smiling at the end. 4.5 stars.***

REVIEW: FAULTLINES, BY BARBARA TAYLOR SISSEL

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It’s the phone call every parent dreads: in the middle of the night, Sandy Cline learns that her twenty-year-old son, Jordan, has been in a car accident. Her nephew, Travis, was also in the car, along with Travis’s girlfriend. All three are alive—but barely. The car was smashed against a tree along a remote and winding road, beautiful but deadly, in their rural Texas Hill Country town.

In the wake of the car crash, the close-knit family is tested like never before. Jenna, Travis’s mother, blames Jordan—as well as her sister, Sandy—after reports surface that Jordan had been driving. As the young adults struggle to survive, tension between their parents escalates. But when trust is broken and a shocking family secret is exposed, it creates a perfect storm of harrowing consequences. Rumors in the small town spread like wildfire. When details of the accident are questioned, Sandy and Jenna wonder if their family has been destroyed beyond repair.

 

My Thoughts: From the first moments, I immersed myself in the story of a family suffering one of the worst events that can happen to parents: a child in danger, possibly because of something reckless one of them did. Set in the Texas hill country, in a small town named Wyatt, we are offered a glimpse of the people, the setting, and how families cope in tragic moments.

Sandy, mother to Jordan, is blindsided when her sister Jenna, Travis’s mother, reveals a long-hidden secret in front of the family. And in a hurtful way.

It was easy to see that she acted out of pain, but the consequences would be long-standing, and the bitterness would last for the foreseeable future.

Emmett, Sandy’s husband, reacts to the revelation by leaving Sandy in the lurch…and ultimately, creating another chasm in the family.

Jordan makes another discovery that will lead him to an older woman named Libby Hennessey, whose husband Beck is somehow connected to him.

Meanwhile, so many events seem to collide and come together, in an almost domino effect, that had me, as a reader, wondering how everything would unfold. Why is the small town detective, Officer Huckabee, seemingly targeting Jordan? Why is he obsessed with Jenna, Travis’s mother? Who is cutting up and killing animals and displaying them on Libby’s property?

As the secrets, lies, and mistaken choices slowly come together, Faultlines reveals more of the darkness that lies within a small town and in a family, but also provides a glimpse of moments of healing. A five star read.

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REVIEW: ALL THE MISSING GIRLS, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

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Nicolette Farrell had been living in Philadelphia for years, having escaped her childhood home and all that she would like to forget. Cooley Ridge, North Carolina, was a place of secrets and lies, and now…two missing girls. Corinne Prescott, ten years ago, and the latest, Annaliese Carter.

Nic’s fiancé Everett, a lawyer, has been in her life for a year…and sometimes, she acknowledges to herself that they don’t really know each other, not deep down. But is he part of her escape plan? Her way of putting the past to rest?

So why is she headed back now, after all this time? She has occasionally gone back to visit, like a year ago when she and her brother Daniel moved their dad to a facility. His mind wanders and he seems to be failing.

They want to fix up the house and sell it, needing the money.

All the Missing Girls brings to life the town, its secrets, and those who would love to keep everything buried. But who are the guilty ones? Daniel, Tyler, Jackson…all persons of interest. They all had some kind of interactions with the girls…and they all are acting a little off.

The story moves backwards, starting at Day Fifteen, and by the time we arrive at the night Annaliese went missing, we are putting the pieces together. Stunning pieces that will reveal what happened to Annaliese…and to Corinne.

Could any of them move on, putting the past behind them? Could the secrets remain buried?

I loved this story and couldn’t put the book down. The writing style very successfully kept me guessing until the very end, rooting for Nic, Daniel, and Tyler…and realizing that sometimes, the truth needs to stay hidden. 5 stars.

***My e-ARC came to me from the publisher via 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: LITTLE BLACK LIES, BY SANDRA BLOCK

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After finishing medical school at Yale, along with her internship, Zoe Goldman has returned to her hometown of Buffalo for her psychiatry residency. But coming home has brought some baggage with it.

Years ago, Zoe lost her birth mother in a fire, and has some physical and emotional scarring from the traumatic episode. In addition, Zoe has ADHD and some issues with compulsivity. She struggles with these issues, along with how coming home has caused old feelings to resurface. And now the nightmares have begun again.

How will Zoe manage her patient load while dealing with her own issues? Why is her adoptive mother, now suffering from dementia, hiding things from her? Was everything she was told a lie, or has her mother “forgotten” the facts due to her memory issues?

Little Black Lies is a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. I loved the mix of Zoe’s personal life with the issues of her patients. Why has one particular patient, Sofia Vallano, who incidentally killed her own mother when she was fourteen, started showing up in Zoe’s nightmares? Can Zoe find the answers to her own nebulous past? Will she discover the truth behind the lies? And when, in one horrifying moment, she does learn it all, will she survive it?

Finding the answers can be life-changing. There are still too many unanswered questions, Zoe realizes, and what is the truth? What are the lies? I liked this summation Zoe made: “Maybe the truth is this: There is no truth.”

A great story for those who enjoy suspense, mixed in with family issues. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE IDEA OF LOVE, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

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When Ella Flynn and Blake Hunter met in Watersend, South Carolina, they each had their own agenda, and they were each telling little white lies.

Ella, who was a resident of the town, had shared with Blake, who was calling himself Hunter Adderman and posing as a writer of history: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.” She had no idea that “Hunter” had already begun following that particular piece of advice.

Maybe the little white lies were harmless. But before we can answer the question of what would happen to the two story tellers, we are shown how each of them manages to keep the truth out of things…until it was no longer possible.

Why would Blake Hunter, a screen writer from LA, tell such a fabrication? And why would Ella, whose husband left her for her best friend’s sister, want to make up her own version of events?

Would the perfect love story Blake believes he has discovered put him back on the top, after two movie flops? Could Ella find love again, or must she settle for just the idea of it?

The Idea of Love: A Novel was a charming but somewhat superficial tale about all the things that can go wrong with love, and how trying and persevering can make all the difference. Along the way, we get to watch Ella redefine what she wants in life, including a life in which she is a wedding dress designer. She gets to reassess everything she thought she knew and believed about love…and friendship. The story was a fun and quick read. 4.0 stars.