REVIEW: THE PUSH, BY ASHLEY AUDRAIN

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had.But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter—she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born—and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

Even though the protagonist in The Push seems like an unreliable narrator, I began to trust her version of events because of the dismissive way that her husband is treating her. And the more time we spend with Violet, I felt that scary intensity that comes from huge red flags.

I knew that nothing good would come of this family, and as we learn more and more about Blythe’s childhood and her mother and grandmother, I knew that everything stemmed from those past connections.

But what is really going on with Violet? Is her father reinforcing her dysfunctional relationship with Blythe? Is he truly oblivious to her flaws and issues?

I kept turning the pages, wanting to find out more. All the while, I am questioning what I believe and doubting what is right in front of us. Until finally we know the truth. A five star read.

***

REVIEW: PIECE OF MY HEART, BY MARY HIGGINS CLARK/ALAFAIR BURKE

Television producer Laurie Moran and her fiancée, Alex Buckley, the former host of her investigative television show, are just days away from their mid-summer wedding, when things take a dark turn. Alex’s seven-year-old nephew, Johnny, vanishes from the beach. A search party begins and witnesses recall Johnny playing in the water and collecting shells behind the beach shack, but no one remembers seeing him after the morning. As the sun sets, Johnny’s skim board washes up to shore, and everyone realizes that he could be anywhere, even under water.

A ticking clock, a sinister stalker, and fresh romance combine in this exhilarating follow up to the bestselling You Don’t Own Me—another riveting page-turner from the “Queen of Suspense” Mary Higgins Clark and her dazzling partner-in-crime Alafair Burke.

 
 
 
 

Piece of My Heart is an intense thriller with red herrings and convoluted twists and turns that takes us on an enjoyable journey, loving the familiar characters and gasping at the unexpected events. Through this final tale in the series, we are offered a final glimpse of the characters and their history.

As my First Book of 2021, I was thrilled with the engaging tale, and couldn’t wait to see what would happen next.

Laurie Moran and Alex Buckley are favorite characters, and I have followed every book in the Under Suspicion series, so I was especially eager to find out what we would discover along the way.

A missing boy, one with a complicated history, keeps the tale going and makes for an intense story, one that could ultimately be the centerpiece of one of Laurie’s TV productions.

A crime from the past woven into the story kept the reader drawn into the history of the television series. I was captivated to the very end, and award 5 stars to this book.

 
***
FIRST BOOK OF 2021
 
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REVIEW: THE LIES YOU TOLD, BY HARRIET TYCE

In the playground it’s the law of the jungle

But at the school gate, there are no rules at all…

When Sadie Roper moves back to London, she’s determined to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. First, she needs to get her daughter settled into a new school-one of the most exclusive in the city. Next, she’s going to get back the high-flying criminal barrister career she sacrificed for marriage ten years earlier. But nothing goes quite as planned. The school is not very welcoming newcomers, her daughter hasn’t made any friends yet and the other mothers are as fiercely competitive as their children. Sadie immediately finds herself on the outside as she navigates the fraught politics of the school gate.

But the tide starts to turn as Sadie begins to work on a scandalous, high-profile case that’s the perfect opportunity to prove herself again, even though a dangerous flirtation threatens to cloud her professional judgment. And when Liza, queen of the school moms, befriends Sadie, she draws her into the heart of the world from which she was previously excluded. Soon Sadie and her family start to thrive, but does this close new friendship prevent her from seeing the truth? Sadie may be keeping her friends close, but what she doesn’t know is that her enemies are closer still…

As The Lies You Told begins, we meet Sadie and her daughter Robin, starting over in London, with Robin enrolled in the same school that Sadie had attended as a child.  They are living in the home where Sadie grew up, a home with a cold, uncaring mother.  They have only returned to the house and the school in order to honor the conditions of the trust Sadie’s mother left behind.

Almost immediately, we are offered a glimpse of cold and competitive mothers, vying for their daughters’ positions in the school, and bullying everyone around them.  They were impossible to like, and by the end of the story, we are not surprised by what one or more of them have done.

Alternating between the scenes at the school are the ones showing Sadie’s job as a barrister working on a case that could have been ripped from the headlines.

Another alternate storyline shows someone in search of a lost child, racing to find answers, and as the story picks up toward the end, we learn more about the narrator and the secrets underneath the surface.

An intense thrill ride that kept me rapidly turning pages, this book definitely earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: DON’T LOOK FOR ME, BY WENDY WALKER

One night, Molly Clarke walked away from her life.

She doesn’t want to be found.

Or at least, that’s the story.

The car abandoned miles from home.

The note found at a nearby hotel.

The shattered family that couldn’t be put back together.

They called it a “walk away.”

It happens all the time.

Women disappear, desperate to leave their lives behind and start over.

But is that what really happened to Molly Clarke?

 

 

On Day One, we see Molly Clarke driving in the rain, thinking about the sadness of her life: her losses, her remaining two children who seem to wish she weren’t there at all, and the emptiness of her marriage.

She has just left her son Evan’s game at school and watched him look away from her, dismiss her, pretend she wasn’t there.

Driving toward home, she keeps going, as if she has no destiny. And then she runs out of gas on a stretch of road. She sees a gas station 30 feet away, but as she walks toward it, she realizes it is boarded up. Empty. Like her life.

When a truck drives by with what she thinks is a man and his daughter, and they pull over, offering her a ride, she doesn’t really hesitate…

What then begins is a nightmare.

Will Molly ever go home again? The man takes her to a house instead of the police station where she wanted to go. He makes empty promises about phoning for help…and she is soon a prisoner.

Meanwhile, back home, Molly’s daughter Nicole is searching for her. She doesn’t believe that her mom just walked away, and too many pieces of the story don’t make sense.

We watch the tale unfold between Nicole and Molly, back and forth in alternating narratives.

Who is the man holding Molly hostage? Why are the police and other residents of the small town of Hastings where Molly’s car and supposed “note” were found telling tales that don’t make sense? Is it a conspiracy? Or is it even more dark and evil?

I kept trying to figure out who the players were and how they connected to Molly and Nicole, so as the answers began to come, I was breathless with anticipation. Don’t Look for Me was a brilliant 5 star read.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

***

REVIEW: THE END OF HER, BY SHARI LAPENA

 

A long-ago accident—and a visitor from out of the blue. . .

Stephanie and Patrick are adjusting to life with their colicky twin girls. The babies are a handful, but even as Stephanie struggles with the disorientation of sleep deprivation, there’s one thing she’s sure of: she has all she ever wanted.

Then Erica, a woman from Patrick’s past, appears and makes a disturbing accusation. Patrick had always said his first wife’s death was an accident, but now Erica claims it was murder.

Patrick insists he’s innocent, that this is nothing but a blackmail attempt. Still, Erica knows things about Patrick—things that make Stephanie begin to question her husband. Stephanie isn’t sure what, or who, to believe. As Stephanie’s trust in Patrick begins to falter, Patrick stands to lose everything. Is Patrick telling the truth—is Erica the persuasive liar Patrick says she is? Or has Stephanie made a terrible mistake?

How will it end?

Who is telling the truth in The End of Her? Or will there be plenty of liars to go around?

Just when I thought I knew who to believe, another twist would come out of nowhere, and I would be stunned again.

One thing for sure, I knew I hated Erica. But is Patrick truly innocent? And what about Stephanie? She seems so sweet, and as if she could do no wrong. But are there unexpected dark depths to her?

The story takes us to the past while also plunging forward into the future to show what lies ahead for these characters.

Enough said. Saying more would spoil the tale, so suffice it to say, your head will be spinning by the time this story concludes. 5 brilliant stars.

***

REVIEW: AFTER ANNA, BY ALEX LAKE

A girl is missing. Five years old, taken from outside her school. She has vanished, traceless.

The police are at a loss; her parents are beyond grief. Their daughter is lost forever, perhaps dead, perhaps enslaved.

But the biggest mystery is yet to come: one week after she was abducted, their daughter is returned.

She has no memory of where she has been. And this, for her mother, is just the beginning of the nightmare.

 

The parents in After Anna are Brian and Julia, and their marriage is on the outs for unrelated issues. The plan was to separate, but then Anna was taken. As soon as Anna is returned, Julia has only a few rare moments of peace before the worst of the nightmare begins.

Throughout the time that Anna has been missing, vitriol was spewed on Julia from the press in an unending onslaught. Who is leaking information to them, and why are they twisting everything?

Meanwhile, the perpetrator carries on his/her internal monologue, advising the reader of the future plan to keep the target pointed on the family, especially Julia.

On the other hand, why is Edna, Brian’s mother, who has never liked Julia, manipulating everything and turning Brian against Julia? She is a very unpleasant character and is most likely up to no good.

As the intensity ratchets up, the reader is offered a close-up view of the insanity of our perpetrator’s mind. I had the identity figured out before the end, but a glimpse into the twisted mind of the evil person was so intense I could not stop reading. I was biting my nails, and kept following the actions until the anti-climactic conclusion. 5 stars

***

REVIEW: BELIEVE ME, BY J.P. DELANEY

 

A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.

Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions.

The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.

Then the game changes.

When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.

Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap?

But who is the decoy . . . and who is the prey?

 

My Thoughts: I loved the twisty elements of Believe Me that always kept me a little off-balance. Claire’s first person narrative made me care about her and about her perspective. I felt myself rooting for her all along, especially when she found herself in many precarious situations, when those who were supposed to be on her side didn’t believe her version of events.

Claire’s immigration status intrigued me, as it especially resonates in this day and age. One’s life can be upended at a moment’s notice, so treading carefully is what one must do, and persons in authority can use that fear as leverage.

Trust games are part of the interactions for these characters, and we are thrown into the quandary of not knowing who to believe or what to believe.

Who killed Stella? Was it Patrick, or Claire, or someone else? And how does the dark website Necropolis play into the drama? When Patrick writes a play based on the Baudelaire book he loves, Claire is cast and sees the opportunity to finally get her green card. But is the play just an opportunity or another trap that will thrust her into more danger?

As we switch back and forth, asking ourselves what is truly real and what is Claire performing “in character,” we are still stunned by how everything plays out. An incredibly brilliant 5 star read.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

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.

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.

FROM THE INTERIOR: WAITING ON “MOST WANTED”

wow logo on march 25

Welcome to another Waiting on Wednesday event, hosted by Jill, at Breaking the Spine.

Every week, we gather around the blogosphere and search out the upcoming book releases, sharing our thoughts and blurbs.  Today I am eagerly awaiting a book from an author I have loved over the years, Lisa Scottoline.  Her newest upcoming release is Most Wanted, another searing, powerful blockbuster novel that explores hot-button issues within the framework of an intricately plotted thriller. Release Date – 4/12/16.

 

 

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When a woman and her husband, desperate for a baby, find themselves unable to conceive, they decide to take further steps. Since it is the husband who is infertile, the heroine decides to use a donor. And all seems to be well. Three months pass and she is happily pregnant. But a shocking revelation occurs when she discovers that a man arrested for a series of brutal murders is her donor – the biological father of the child she is carrying. Delving deeper to uncover the truth, the heroine must face her worst fears, and confront a terrifying truth.

***

Oh, I love the sound of this one!  This author never fails to engage me with her books, whether they are mysteries, thrillers, or books rife with family issues.  And sometimes she combines all of these elements in one stunning book.

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