REVIEW: BLACK-EYED SUSANS, BY JULIA HEABERLIN

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What would your life be like after a traumatic event, in which you were found in a field with the remains of other girls, covered in Black-Eyed Susans? Would you find it hard to remember what happened?

Tessie (Tessa) Cartwright is that one remaining survivor, and for a while afterwards, she has lost her vision, and not just her memory. But the vision returns, even though the memories are still missing.

The grown-up Tessa has a teenaged daughter, Charlie, aged fourteen, and she is determined to protect the life she has. But will the newest efforts by the attorneys allow her to do this? The convicted killer, Terrell Darcy Goodman, may not actually be the killer. Efforts abound to find evidence to free him. Tessa herself is beginning to wonder, since someone is planting Black-Eyed Susans beneath her window…and leaving strange notes.

Narrated in the POV of young Tessie, from 1995, and present day Tessa, the story carries us along, feeding us bits and pieces of moments that will surely keep us guessing.

Why has her best friend Lydia, from her teenaged years, gone missing? Has something happened to her? More and more red herrings crop up, making us wonder about everything we thought we knew. Toward the end, the story switches into Lydia’s POV, creating more doubt in the reader’s mind.

Set in Texas, with Tessa living in a bungalow in Fort Worth, we can see and feel the world around her as she struggles to move on, while trying to recapture the past. And all the while, what we believed about friends and trusted ones is lying in wait, ready to strike at just the right and convenient time. A riveting tale that I could not stop reading, “Black-Eyed Susans” earned five stars…and was unforgettable.

REVIEW: NEVER TELL A LIE, BY HALLIE EPHRON

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At long last, David and Ivy Rose are about to have their first child, after previous miscarriages. With the baby’s due date only weeks away, they are clearing out the attic of a previous owner’s belongings and having a yard sale.  They are eager to finish renovating their old Victorian in Brush Hills, MA.

In the furor of the sale, with all the comings and goings, Ivy is stunned to see a woman, also pregnant, approach and identify herself as Melinda White, an old high school friend.

Ivy knows that they were barely acquaintances, that Melinda was always on the fringes…and that she had probably longed to be part of the crowd.

Suddenly Melinda is going inside the house with David, having asked for a tour, and Ivy is consumed with other yard sale details.

What happens next will be like a nightmare that unfurls and changes everything about the life they thought they had….and with each day that passes, their lives will be reshaped by the events of that day. For Melinda White has been reported missing, and nobody can fill in what happened after she went into the house with David. Not even David.

There was evidence, including a blood-stained outfit Melinda had been wearing, stashed at their curb in a trunk they had placed out there for garbage collection. Why did the neighbor, Mrs. Bindell, report that she had seen Ivy at the trunk? How did fetal tissue get on the clothing? And why is David’s old friend Theo, who is also their attorney, acting suspicious?

Obsession, mental instability, and a very devious plan would all unfold, and as the suspense ratchets up another few notches, I was glued to the pages as it all started to make sense. Never Tell a Lie: A Novel of Suspense is a psychological thriller with characters I cared about…and an ending that I was eager to see. 5 stars.

REVIEW: THE POCKET WIFE, BY SUSAN CRAWFORD

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For many years, ever since her college days, Dana Catrell has had ups and downs. Her manic episodes and her depressions, all part of the diagnosed bipolar disorder, take over her life, especially when she is off her medications.

There are times when she can maintain, can control the ups and downs.

But the day that her neighbor Celia Steinhauser was bludgeoned to death in her home was not one of those days. That day, she felt very much out-of-control. And she was drunk. Her memory has blank spots, and for a while, she has an eerie feeling that she might have killed her friend. After all, she was presumably the last one to see her alive.

Her husband Peter, a lawyer, is not helping. Everything he does seems to increase her manic episodes, her feelings that she is going crazy, and his dismissive attitude makes her feel insignificant. As if she is something one could stuff in a pocket and forget about.

The Pocket Wife: A Novel takes the reader on the scary ride that is Dana’s life, with her mind teetering on the edge, as someone, including her husband, seems bent on making her feel crazier. And perhaps guilty.

But Detective Jack Moss, assigned to the case, is not so sure Dana is guilty. As he investigates, interviews persons of interest, and gathers evidence, the signs seem to point to more going on than what might seem obvious.

Who else had the most to gain by Celia’s death? Who is the woman in the photo with Peter, the one Celia showed Dana that day? What, if anything, does she have to do with what is happening now? And is Jack’s son, damaged by his parents’ divorce years before, somehow connected to the events of that day?

I did not figure out who had actually killed Celia until the story was nearing its conclusion. I had my suspicions about the person who was charged with the murder, but the denouement was definitely stunning. And worth the wait.

Peter was a slimy character, and so was Celia’s husband Ronald. There were a number of people who were unlikeable, but despite her flaws and her mental instability, and despite her unreliability as a narrator, Dana was someone I was rooting for throughout the story. I had high hopes that one of the sleazy characters would be guilty. Recommended for those who enjoy psychological thrillers. 5 stars.

REVIEW: UNTIL YOU’RE MINE, BY SAMANTHA HAYES

18240246Baby love could be the defining theme of Until You’re Mine: A Novel, as we enter the world of women questing after babies, despite difficulties and challenges. And then there are those who do not really want the babies, but see them as a means to an end.

Our story is alternately narrated in the first person voices of Claudia Morgan-Brown, a social worker, a wife, a stepmother, and now a pregnant want-to-be mother, and the woman she hires as a nanny, Zoe Harper.

A third-person narration follows the investigations of DI Lorraine Fisher and DI Adam Scott, partners, as well as husband and wife. They are hoping to solve the strange murders of pregnant women whose babies are seemingly cut out of them. In the background are the intense dynamics of their family issues, with two teenaged daughters chomping at the bit.

As we sift through these stories, it is possible to think you have everything figured out, with the good and the bad sorted, but just when you think you know what is happening, you will be stunned.

Other characters added an interesting twist to the tale, like Cecelia Paige, who has some connection to Zoe Harper…who may not really be Zoe Harper.

Set in England, near Birmingham, we are caught up in the twisted lives of these characters, and not until the very end does it all come together. A unique psychological suspense tale that kept me turning those pages and staying up late to keep reading. 5.0 stars.

REVIEW: KEEP YOUR FRIENDS CLOSE, BY PAULA DALY

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Just who is Eve Dalladay? To Natty, she is an old friend from university days, when the two of them were best friends, a connection seemingly maintained over the years. But is there more to Eve’s story? Natty begins to wonder about that when Eve, like a conniving interloper, inserts herself into the perfect world she has constructed with her husband Sean and their two daughters, Alice and Felicity. How did Eve manage to so quickly seduce Sean into a life together and topple the world that Natty has counted on for all these years?

Secrets, like a sleeping giant who awakens, have a way of coming out. Especially when someone like Eve has a plan and a purpose. And around every corner is a new piece of Eve’s plan, while she innocently watches Natty’s world crumble.

Our story begins when Natty rushes off to France where her daughter Felicity has taken ill and is in critical condition. Eve just happens to be there visiting and offers to stay and help. But soon we learn that Eve’s plan is so much more, and as we watch the train wreck of their lives, emotions are intense and I couldn’t stop turning those pages with bated breath, wondering what new discovery would come next.

Interesting characters include the calm, yet somewhat tricky detective, Joanne Aspinall. What is her story, and how is she somehow connected to this family? Then there is Jackie, Natty’s father’s girlfriend, who is a breath of fresh air, with her directness and advice. As we get to know each character and how they connect, we still have to wonder what happened back during university days, when Natty and Eve first met; and how will something Natty later recalls from that time lead to a pivotal moment near the end of Keep Your Friends Close?

Our first person narrator is Natty, but the perspective alternates between multiple characters, and the pacing and timing of each narrative is designed to intensify the impact of each revelation. A story for all those who enjoy a psychological thriller or a story replete with fascinating and mysterious elements. 5.0 stars.