By Emilie Richards
June 13, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
What constitutes being a mother? Is it giving birth to a child or loving and caring for one who isn't born to you? This is the premise for Emilie Richards' latest release, The Swallow's Nest.
Lilia Swallow couldn't be happier; she loves her handsome husband Graham, the California home she inherited, and her career. For the past year, she has been diligently watching over Graham throughout chemotherapy sessions after being diagnosed with lymphoma. Though her own business as a home design blogger is her passion, Graham now is her primary concern.
After the long and tedious treatment, Graham is in remission, so Lilia holds a party to celebrate the good news. Their friends and Graham's colleagues gather to wish him continued recovery. Then an uninvited guest arrives, thrusting a three-month-old infant into Lilia's hands declaring he is Graham's son. She is leaving him to Graham for he did not keep his promise to support both of them. Lilia believes this is a mistake until she sees the guilty look on her husband's face. They had talked about children, but with Graham's uncertain illness Lilia thought they should wait. It looks he got what he wanted, just not with her.
The baby's mother, Marina comments upon handing over the child with Lilia: "You'll have lots of time to think about this moment and what a horrible person I am. But while you're at it, don't forget I gave this baby life. Think about that, Lilia, when you're feeling superior. I did something you couldn't be bothered to do. And think about what it was like for me to manage everything on my own up to this point when I was promised so much more."
Intensely shocked, angered, and hurt, Lilia flees home to the comforting arms of her family in Hawaii. She misses Graham, realizing she cannot be angry at baby Toby, so she decides to go back and be a mother to this child. Tensions are high between Graham and her though he is very repentant. Graham explains he worried he wouldn't survive and because she wouldn't get pregnant, he needed to have a part of him remain.
Soon Lilia and Toby form a deep bond, and she couldn't love him more if he were her own. At almost a year since Toby's arrival, Carrick Donnelly, Graham's best friend, and attorney suggest they petition for adoption. During that time Marina makes no attempt to connect with her baby.
Then Graham's conniving mother with whom he's been estranged for years devises a plot for Marina to legally regain the boy. A custody battle commences.
Deeply emotional, three women are vying for a child's life. Who will the courts decide is the best mother for him? This novel offers genuine compassion, forgiveness, and selflessness as the real meaning of motherhood.
By Kate Southwood
W.W. Norton & Company
May 16, 2017
Eighty-two-year-old Margaret Doud Maguire is in the hospital recovering from a heart attack. With the Christmas season approaching, all she wants is to be home. She is the last of the Doud family, having lost brother Porter and sister Estelle, but her two daughters, Joanne and Lee, and granddaughter Melissa are there for her.
Written as a memoir, elderly Maggie reminisces about her life. All she desired was to be a dutiful wife and loving mother, and after all these years, she sees her girls as strangers.
Gathering in Maggie's Iowa home, she hopes to reconcile with them before she passes away. She doesn't believe she was the mother they deserved, and Garfield, the girls’ father, always bullied her. Looked up to and respected in the community, Garfield operated his dental practice out of his house. Larger than life, he demanded to be in control and ruled his family harshly.
Maggie, a naive, small-town girl when they married, was cowed not only by Garfield but also by his mother, Lillian with whom they lived. Garfield served in World War II, which made Lillian overly domineering, putting Maggie under her thumb. Lillian more or less raised Joanne with Garfield's blessing, until he returned home, leaving Maggie feeling rejected.
Garfield ruled his family with an iron fist. Maggie deferred to him for everything. Some remembrances of him include passages like these:
Garfield brooked no dissent. If he knew a thing, he knew it, and he dismissed all contradiction that did not derive from an expert source. I could never question him on dentistry, not even as he practiced it on our girls. I was not only not a dentist; I had only a high school diploma to my name. So he never asked my opinion when he put Joanne in his chair at the age of seven; filled her mouth with fluoride and walked away, saying, ''Don't swallow, that's poison.''
Also: No one ever needed to think a thought around Garfield; he would think them for you. You needn't ever wonder about anything, either, or cultivate opinions or judgments. He'd cheerfully set you straight. Pointing out weakness where he saw it was an indoor sport, and Garfield constructed fine qualities like kindness or caution as weakness when and where it suited him. He felt entitled to do it, somehow, and if you didn't agree that he was doing you a service, that was all right; he knew he was, and that was good enough for the both of you for now.
Garfield claimed Joanne as his own after her birth, raising her in his Catholic faith, allowing Lee to attend Maggie's Presbyterian Church. They grew to be a house divided.
One Sunday after services, Lee and Maggie came home and found Garfield dead. The girls were still young: Lee age seven and Joanne 15. Maggie did not suffer his loss. Joanne happened to be home when Garfield perished, and after his passing took up her father's mannerisms, becoming hard-headed and opinionated, causing Maggie much distress.
The prose is distinctive through with an example as the following: Our breakfast eggs fluttered and spat in the pan, yolks humped up and the edges gone brown in the fat.
Evensong holds many accounts of Maggie's history and the angst with her family. The chapters, flip-flopping between the present and the past can be a bit confusing, but is overall successful in this book. Southwood does not use quotation marks, nor does she separate dialogue from narrative within paragraphs. Yet the story works and it can't help but make readers consider their upcoming demise and the regrets in their lives.
This novel may be regarded as depressing; however, it offers food for thought as well as the suggestion that it's never too late to make changes in one's life.
By Gian Sardar
G. P. Putman's Sons
May 16, 2017
“A seductive and mesmerizing thriller.”
Thirty-three-year-old Abby Walter cannot seem to shake the horrifying and recurring nightmare that has plagued her for years. In it, she is in a dark meadow where she is buried alive only to awaken to the panicky feeling of ingesting dirt and being unable to breathe. This dream that eluded her for 14 years suddenly returns in full force.
Abby resides in Los Angeles with Robert, her male friend of four years and the one she hopes to marry even though he is hesitant to make their relationship permanent. When Abby receives a notice of her class reunion, she decides to return to her childhood home in Minnesota. Realizing the answers may be found where they commenced, she is hopeful that once there she can unearth clues to her dream.
Aidan Mackenzie, Abby's school-girl crush, attends the reunion. He is employed as a police detective and at once, they discover the sparks are still there for them both. Though Abby is guilt-ridden, concerned about her feelings for Robert, she confides in Aidan about her night time terrors. His attraction is evident, and though he is searching for a serial rapist and killer, he promises to help her find out why her sleep is being cursed.
Tension occurs between Abby and her mother, and her mother can't or won't offer any assistance as to why Abby should be continually afflicted with the harrowing nightmares. Soon Abby begins to believe someone is stalking her and wonders if her dreams are a forewarning. Her fright is palpable:
"Ghosts. The usual reason for fears of basements, attics, or closets at the ends of long halls. But Abby's never believed in ghosts. Nothing flits in the corner of her eye; her rocking chair never moved on its own. For her, the fear is suffocation, breath faster and shorter, world compressing, everything heavier and heavier till she's gasping, an open-mouthed futile plea."
Though Abby's mother claims no knowledge she can share with her, Abby senses a strong connection with her grandmother, Edith. In her mother's basement, Abby locates correspondence from Edith and a velvet box containing a diamond ring which Abby always hoped would be hers. Hidden beneath the lining, she discovers a perplexing note. Aidan and Abby peruse the letters and pieces come together including information about someone named Claire.
"Dreams that started long ago. The name Claire Ballantine a new addition. A woman who disappeared in 1948, an event that forever impacted her grandmother."
What could this woman and Edith have to do with the terror Abby experiences while she sleeps?
Through her inquiries, Abby learns that in 1948, Claire was married to the wealthy businessman, William Ballantine. Claire loved William, though he engaged in an affair with Eva, a "common" woman from a small town. Dominated most of his life by his father, William suffers remorse about Eva, knowing his father would be appalled; however, he loves Eva and wants to spend his life with her. What happened to Claire and what could the message Abby finds have to do with her grandmother?
You Were Here is an enthralling tale which takes place over two generations. The voices of the three major characters—Abby, Eva, and Claire—look into the past and illustrate different lives and how they converge, contributing to a seductive and mesmerizing thriller.
By Mary Torjussen
April 11, 2017
Hannah Monroe, a thirty-something British woman, is excited. A senior manager for an accounting firm, she's on her way home from a successful training session, a course that could yield a coveted promotion. She cannot wait to tell her live-in lover Matt the good news.
Life couldn't get much better for Hannah. She owns a house she loves, is employed at a job that gives her complete gratification, and adores her boyfriend. But a problem arises when she arrives at her unoccupied house with no sign of Matt. The emptiness suggests he never lived there. In bewilderment, Hannah searches every inch of her home discovering Matt's belongings—his clothing, photos, music, kitchenware, and even his television are gone.
Hannah grabs her cell to call him, finding his phone number has been erased. There are no signs of his existence, and even a search of Facebook produces nothing. It's as though he was never part of her life.
Hannah is stunned and at first wonders if they have been robbed. Unable to fathom what is happening with Matt, she phones her best friend Katie and begs her to come. Katie offers little solace stating Hannah needs to move on and forget Matt. But Hannah cannot.
This disturbing situation affects Hannah in all aspects of her being. Her job suffers; she starts drinking; she no longer takes pride in her appearance or in keeping her house clean; and she loses a lot of weight.
Strange things happen, too. Tulips in her kitchen that she needed to dispose of suddenly turn into fresh buds. Where did they come from? She receives strange texts and calls and thinks they're from Matt, though it's not his phone number. Also, she believes someone has been coming into her house while she's out.
One day she discovers an envelope mixed in with the mail containing a single sheet of paper with the word satisfied typed on it. The horror starts and Hannah wonders if she is going mad.
I stared down at the paper in my hands.
I started to shake. Who had sent this? What did it mean? Why would anyone send something like that?
. . . This was my proof I wasn't going mad. All the other things, the texts from unknown numbers, the odd phone call at work, and the flowers that came back to life, even the CD in the car: all of them could question my state of mind. I knew that as far as my nerves and my memory were concerned I wasn't the same as I normally was. I was quite aware that I was obsessing and probably making things worse for myself. But this . . . this piece of paper proved that it wasn't me. Someone was out to get me!
Soon the fixation to find Matt and learn why he left takes precedence over everything. Hannah will not stop until she learns the truth.
Each chapter of Gone Without a Trace concludes with a cliffhanger, making it impossible to put down. The plot is filled with spine-tingling emotional suspense, and the ending proves to be shocking.
By Megan Miranda
Simon & Schuster
April 4, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Leah Stevens is worried about her friend Paige, for she determines her boyfriend Aaron, is evil. A professor at a nearby college where several young girls have died, she feels he's somehow involved in their demise. After Aaron drugs Leah, she warns Paige about his devious ways, though to no avail.
She explains her fright: ...he'd mixed us all drinks before they left. And something happened to me. I'd sat on the pulled-out couch, watching television, and my head had gone woozy and my stomach sick, and I'd put down the cup, noticed a blue debris in the bottom, mixed in. Like pulp but grainy ...
How I'd run to the bathroom, feeling something desperately wrong but not sure what it was. How I had opened the medicine cabinet, looking for something for my stomach or my head, unsure which—when I'd see the vial in his name ...
A journalist for a Boston newspaper, Leah pens an article about the suspicious student deaths, insinuating, but not naming Aaron, as being responsible. After the story breaks, Aaron hangs himself, and Paige takes out a restraining order against Leah for harassment. With her career blowing up, Leah is asked to resign.
All she hopes is to find a quiet place to start over. As she prepares to leave Boston, Leah reconnects with Emmy Grey, someone she shared an apartment with eight years ago. She's allegedly finished her stint with the Peace Corps and is dealing with a nasty breakup, so she too wants to leave the area. Emmy recommends a rural western Pennsylvania town where, luckily, Leah is offered a teaching position. Without possessing a checking account, Leah signs the lease on a ranch with Emmy promising to pay her share in cash.
Before the semester begins, Leah shares a drink with Davis Cobb, the school's coach. He shows an interest in her, but she rebukes his advances because he is married. Then Leah receives emails and hang-up phone calls from him that disturb her at all hours, and one night Cobb comes to her house, drunk.
On the way to work, caught in traffic due to an accident, Leah learns a young woman has been severely beaten and dumped near the lake. Governed by her reporting instincts she runs to the scene, but cannot get information. Later she discovers the victim bears a striking resemblance to her. Fearful Cobb mistook this woman for her; she notifies the police of his behavior.
Because of conflicting work schedules, the women hardly see each other, yet after several days Leah concludes her friend has not been home. She believes Emmy is staying with James, a guy she is dating, though there's no way to contact her for she doesn't have a cell phone. Believing she is a night clerk in a motel, Leah checks out the local ones to no avail then decides to inform the authorities of her absence.
Leah peruses Emmy's possessions for clues but finds nothing. There are no personal papers, receipts, phone numbers of family members, or anything even to prove she exists. Investigator Kyle Donovan, who befriends Leah, also turns up nothing.
Confusion sets in for Leah: Detective Donovan wanted to know the facts, the type of things we report in the paper. But these weren't the right questions for me and Emmy. I didn't know where she was from, the names of her parents, her blood type or the place of last residence.
When James is found dead in the car Emmy had been using, Leah becomes a suspect. Is Emmy playing her? Is her past coming back to haunt her? If so, why? Also, does her Boston situation connected to what is currently happening?
Listed as contemporary woman's fiction, The Perfect Stranger is better classified as a psychological thriller. The distinct and well-defined characters add to the suspense, complete with twists and turns, and will make the reader wonder: Do we really know those we are close to?
By Darcey Bell
March 21, 2017
Stephanie, the author of a Mommy blog, writes to connect with other women to help her overcome her loneliness and recover from the death of her husband Davis, and half brother, Chris from a car wreck three years ago. Fortunately, her five-year-old son Miles is a distraction for her grief and the center of her existence.
Emily, a chic and sophisticated woman with a high-powered job at a design firm in Manhattan, befriends Stephanie. Emily's son Nicky is Miles' best friend, and Stephanie is thrilled to finally be part of a tight female relationship.
Though the two women are as close as sisters, they do not disclose everything about their pasts or their current lives. Stephanie often takes Nicky home from school with Miles, or he stays at Stephanie's if Emily needs to work late. Stephanie adores Nicky as if he was her own child and is happy the boys get along so well together.
One day Emily asks Stephanie to do her a small favor by taking Nicky home with her and Miles until she can fetch him later that night. Of course, Stephanie complies, expecting Emily to phone when she is due to be there. Always in constant touch with each other, when Emily doesn't show up or respond to any texts or calls, Stephanie begins to panic. Emily always contacts her and not just when it's about Nicky. Could she have been in an accident? Abducted? Where is she?
Stephanie doesn't want to worry Emily's husband Sean who is in London for business, but when another day passes with no word from Emily, her concerns escalate. Sean believes Emily is away for work, but Stephanie envisions all kinds of devious scenarios.
It is here where Stephanie uses her blog to seek advice. Though she never divulges personal information, she feels compelled to do so now:
"This is going to be different from any post so far. Not more important, since all the things that happen with our kids, their frowns and smiles, their first steps and first words, are the most important things in the world.
"Let's just say this post is . . . MORE URGENT. WAY more urgent.
"My best friend has disappeared. She's been gone for two days. Her name is Emily Nelson. As you know, I don't ever name friends on my blog. But now, for reasons you'll soon understand, I'm (temporarily) suspending my strict anonymity policy."
Through her correspondence, Stephanie unburdens her uncertainties hoping for solace or answers. Then when Sean returns, Stephanie convinces him she is not just another hysterical mom. An investigation commences with the police notified, but they put Emily took off. Stephanie knows better. Emily loves her son and would never leave him. Something is terribly wrong.
The days pass, and Stephanie's blogs grow more passionate from her fright about Emily and her paranoia about foul play. United in their loss, she works hard to comfort Nicky and Sean. She and Sean become close, though Stephanie senses he is withholding things from her.
Stephanie becomes more concerned and does some investigating of her own. What she finds out about her friend is upsetting, leaving her to distrust the woman she thought she knew so well.
Penned in the first person voices of both Stephanie, Emily, with input from Sean, as well as the blog posts establishes Darcy Bell's debut novel of psychological suspense as an intense, captivating, and astonishing thriller ending in an unforeseen and surprise ending; the premise: Be careful who you trust.
By Emily Cavanagh
Lake Union Publishing
March 14, 2017
Contemporary Women's Fiction
The Bloom girls lost their father when their parents divorced, yet when they learn of his passing from an aneurysm, it's like losing him again. Fired from his much-loved teaching job, he moved to Maine to open a restaurant two years after his marriage ended.
Cal, the oldest of the three daughters, is closest to him. A student at Yale when her parents split, she strived to get ahead and accomplish every goal she set to where she boxed herself into a corner. She is a successful lawyer, married, and with two young girls, always remaining stalwart and commanding. She learns of her dad's passing and becomes inconsolable. Her thoughts revert to their closeness:
"At some point, Cal had stopped having fun. Or, when she really looked at her life closely, somehow had never learned how to have fun . . .
". . . Her father hadn't been 'fun' either, but he knew how to access something in Cal that few others did. He had seen through the external shell she offered up to the world. He had seen her fear and insecurity that lay beneath it. With her father, she could doubt herself, because she knew he would build her back up. Most of Cal's life was about being in control—taking care of 'everything.' But with her father she could be needy and soft because he would be strong and in control for her."
Cal arrives at the cottage they are to share before her siblings. She shuts down by crawling into bed, and the others arrive not knowing what to make her unlikely behavior.
Violet, the middle sister, is ambivalent in her feelings about her father. She remembers him as gentle and loyal, but when rumors acted inappropriate with the young men on the swim team he coached, she became perplexed. When this happened, and he didn't fight for himself, she withdrew from him. At 15 and confused, when the divorce is announced, she considers it his admittance of wrongdoing.
Her life is a hodge-podge of activities as she is promiscuous and carefree. Determined to be a poet, she teaches classes at Boston University and at a high school to support herself. She breaks off a relationship with the only man who seems to love her and crashes at a friend's. This is her observation of her current lifestyle:
"She was tired of the artist's struggle. She was too old not to be able to pay her rent, too old to be living with roommates, far too old to be sleeping on someone's couch. Maybe a little stability wasn't such a terrible thing. And maybe it was time to let go of an identity she created for herself when she was too young to know any of those things would matter. Maybe her father had really known what was best, and Violet had shrugged away his words, too stubborn and angry to bother listening."
Meanwhile, Suzy, the youngest had been kept in the dark regarding her parents' breakup. Young when it happened, Cal, Violet, and their mother wanted to protect her. At her job, she falls in love with her boss, declaring herself a lesbian; however, theirs is a tenuous association, and when things go bad, she runs to the comfort of an old boyfriend and ends up pregnant. She never realized her father's perspective of her, and now upon his death, she ponders the past:
"Suzy often wondered if her father had wished for a boy if maybe her birth had been a final and unsuccessful attempt. He'd never made her feel like a disappointment, but she knew there were times he felt unnumbered and out of his depth with the problems and drama of raising three daughters. As children, they were as close to him as they were to their mother, but as they entered adolescence, each of them slowly distanced themselves from him. It was hard to know how much of this had to do with their divorce or if it would have happened eventually, but the three of them came to rely on their mother, or more often, on each other."
The sisters are now thrown together in an awkward position. Cal sequesters herself to a bedroom not wanting to be disturbed, leaving Violet and Suzy stymied about how to proceed with funeral arrangements. Fortunately, their dad's partner steps in to handle everything, taking this weight off their shoulders, though their guilt prevails.
Through this confusing and emotional situation they share their anguish, while discovering things about themselves and their dynamic which brings them closer together. The Bloom Girls is a profound story of love and loss while demonstrating how remorse and unleashed secrets can harm a family.
By Emily Jeanne Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
February 21, 2017
Every family has skeletons in their closets and deals with problems at one time or another.
Such is the case with Ms. Miller’s novel, The News from the End of the World. Cape Cod is the setting and where twins, Vance and Craig Lake grew up. Now in their forties, with Vance living in D.C. with a girlfriend finds his life unraveling. His relationship is over, and he heads to Craig’s home to crash.
Craig is the father of seventeen-year-old Amanda, the child of his first wife who died in a freakish accident. Not long after her death, he met and married Gina who gave birth to Helen, now 7, and infant Cameron.
Gina is unhappy with her life, feeling something is missing, and Craig, owner of a construction company is anxious about their financial situation after going beyond his means renovating their historic house.
Vance arrives unexpectedly adding to the tension within the family dynamic. He adores his brother’s children, though the precocious Helen tends to get on his nerves with her constant jabber.
Amanda proves to be another story. Vance has always been close to her, and he is surprised to find her home for she is supposed to be in Chile with a group of other kids disciplined for offenses they committed at school. Amanda was caught smoking a joint, and because she is an A student and close to graduation, she was able to get into this program rather than be expelled. So why is she back?
Amanda is close-mouthed and will not confide in Vance yet is in a constant standoff with her father. Vance feels like he’s landed in a snake pit and doesn’t know how to handle things or if he should even try. For him, being back in town reminds him of transgressions on his part when he was young, which does not bode well with his conscience.
Middle-aged Vance has no accomplishments he can be proud of or a family of his own. An argument between the brothers has Vance contemplating his life and actions.
Now in the hallway, he can’t help recalling Craig’s words—side-show, pathetic, reckless—and, of course, that Vance doesn’t care about anyone else. Craig is an asshole, he thinks, and moreover, he’s wrong. Vance’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t care enough, but that he cares too much.
With Amanda, the niece he loves as if she were his own, he feels pain at his inability to connect with her and help her through a tough period.
And Amanda: he’s been too timid, too afraid to open his eyes and see what’s been staring him in the face all along. He should have guessed that very first morning—her pale, swollen face, the look of despair. He should’ve known that look.
Written in the diverse voices of several characters, one cannot help but empathize with the differing situations while getting to the crux of each one’s concern.
This visit back to Vance’s roots not only has him reflecting on his current situation but also his actions throughout the years. He recognizes it’s time to take stock and change his ways. His brother and family are all he has, and he understands they need him as much as he needs them. Contemplation runs deep, making this a thought-provoking read.
There’s a flaw deep inside him, a defect, a hold. There’s no other explanation. This is something he’s always known but only rarely, so very rarely, had the courage to admit.
All families suffer from some dysfunction or problems, and this novel is sure to open many eyes. Filled with angst and apprehension, this presents the realistic insight into modern predicaments, yet demonstrates things can change and families can mend.
By Jane Corry
Pamela Dorman Books
January 31, 2017
After a whirlwind romance, young solicitor Lily marries Ed McDonald, an up and coming artist. Now residing in a small London flat, Lily gets her first criminal assignment on an appeal for convicted murderer, Joe Thomas.
Lily, still wet behind the ears, carries insecurities about her weight, attractiveness, and ability to handle this task. Joe is daunting, and her visit at the prison is uncomfortable. Lily feels an attraction to him, though he is not straightforward with her about his actions in his girlfriend's death.
Unnerved, Lily requests the assistance of Barrister, Tony Gordon, a seasoned lawyer though Joe insists Lily play an integral part in his hearing. Lily soon finds herself working all hours.
Neighbors, nine-year-old Carla Cavoletti and her mother, Francesca are distant. Carla is a manipulative little girl who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Always teased for being "different" due to being Italian makes her furious. Wanting to be like her peers, she desperately covets a caterpillar pencil case that all the students have, and one day she steals one. Outside after lunch, her biggest tormenter hits her in the eye with a football and she screams to go home. An aide walks her there but hesitates to leave her when they arrive finding the apartment vacant.
Lily appears and takes charge of Carla until her mother returns, but she first brings her to the hospital to be examined. While with Lily, Carla slips how she stole the case, deciding she can trust Lily. She soon ingratiates herself into Lily and Ed's lives.
Ed immediately falls in love with this beautiful and exotic child and is obsessed with drawing her. Carla spends every Sunday with the McDonalds where she latches on to Ed while Lily is swamped with work. Ed only desires to paint her.
Lily and Ed drift apart, as she keeps on track of her case in hopes of getting ahead in her career. When Joe is freed, Lily is made a partner. Carla and Francesca are forced to move back to Italy to prevent a scandal after Lily discovers Francesca and and the married barrister Tony having a torrid affair.
Years pass and Ed makes a fortune from Carla's portrait. Lily's life is busy as ever, yet now the McDonald's have a new home and are living in prosperity. Carla, now grown, completes law school and goes to London to practice, though her primary motive is to hit up the McDonald's for money. She modeled for Ed's painting which brought in millions, so she believes she is entitled to compensation.
This is when Carla's malevolent persona appears. She worms her way into Lily's office as an intern, then into Ed's heart. He divorces Lily, and when Carla gets pregnant, Lily knows any hope of reconciling is fruitless, even though she acknowledges their marriage was over long before Carla came on the scene.
When Ross, a mutual friend of both the McDonald's informs Lily of Ed's upcoming nuptials, Clara is befuddled:
"And now Ross's early warning of a definite wedding date--soon to be heralded in the gossip pages--tidies things up. Shows me that there is no chance of Ed and I ever being reconciled, even if I wanted to be. Which I don't.
"That's the other odd things about a long marriage ending, at least for me. However bad it was, there were also good patches. And it's those that I tend to remember. Don't ask me why. I don't dwell on the rows when Ed was moody or drunk. Or how he used to hate it because I earned far more than he did, and how he'd throw fits when I was home late from work. ...
"The thing that really breaks my heart is that Ed now does these things with 'Her'. I remember reading an article once about a woman who husband had married someone else. Two things had struck me. First, she's been unable to say the other woman's name, only referring her as 'Her'....
...The second was that this woman had been unable to comprehend how there was now another out there, bearing the same surname and sharing the same habits with the same man the first wife had once known intimately."
Each woman' story is told in separate chapters, though Lily's is written in the first person with Carla's in the third. Lily as the protagonist is finely defined and one cannot help but sympathize with her. Carla's machinations make her easy to despise and moves the novel along with the many plot twists attributed to her diabolical nature. The unexpected conclusion proves that old cliché of "what goes around comes around" is actually true.
By Lousie Gornall
January 3, 2017
Young Adult Fiction
Many suffer in silence from mental illness. Since there are usually no outward appearances of the illness, most believe nothing is wrong. This is not the case for 17-year-old Norah who is dealing with agoraphobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She is a prisoner in her home with her whole life revolving around her malady.
Getting to her therapist's office is a chore for both Norah and her mother. Whenever Norah places a foot outside the door of her house, she practically collapses and needs her mom's assistance to get her into the car and to her appointment. Along the way, dread fills her thoroughly presenting the crushing sensation of impending death. Though Norah knows these feelings are unreasonable, she cannot help herself as her brain is short-circuiting on her.
A new neighbor moves in next door; a striking teen named Luke. Nora glimpses him from her window while she is shooing an annoying bird off the sill. Luke waves, thinking she is flirting with him, which makes Nora writhe in fright. Later when he spies her at her front door with a broom trying to drag in grocery bags left there, he comes onto the porch to help. She freezes, not only afraid of him but fearful of being considered a freak.
Norah's home is her sanctuary where she can deal with her situation, insecurities, and be herself. No known factor caused Norah to become like this, yet she manages her phobias in a disciplined manner. Panicked by germs, she washes her hands continuously, and she follows rituals for to deviate from them would, in her mind, bring a complete shutdown. In spite of being housebound, she likes to sit by the open front door to inhale fresh air and watch what is happening around her cul-de-sac.
Norah describes her fears in the following ways:
"Panic is bad. Panic mixed with disdain for yourself is worse. . . .
"God. I'm such a freak. I want to climb out of my own skin.
"The room undulates. There's no one here, but I feel like there are hands on me, pushing me around and around in a circle. My head throbs; my teeth start chattering.
"Most of the time I can ride out a panic attack. I just curl up in a ball and wait for it to pass. There's something about knowing it will come to an end that I'm certain of. Despite the way my body behaves, it feels manageable. But when it's cut with anger or rage, something shifts, and control feels further out of reach."
This is what happens after an incident passes:
"Moss has started to cover up my skin by the time this panic attack is spent. . . .
"I'm sticky, and there's this residual tremor jit-jit-jittery-bugging its way through my muscles, but it's time to stand and retake control of my limbs. I need a soundtrack, some droll overture played on the world's smallest violin, as I pull myself up and force my knocking knees to take the weight. It's like finding your strength after an intense bout of flu. I wobble across my bedroom, clinging to everything I pass, trying to make it to the kitchen because it's a couple of degrees cooler in there and/or, at the very least, I can climb inside the gargantuan fridge and ice myself off."
This situation is difficult not only for Norah, but her mother also has to learn how to cope with her daughter's anxieties. She demonstrates empathy though she has never dealt with these experiences which must be challenging for her.
Soon, Luke becomes a regular at Norah's house. He slips notes to her through the mail slot. They text, then later he brings ice cream to share while watching horror movies. Norah now envisions kissing him, even though the human mouth contains icky bacteria. She questions why he likes her when he could have his pick of any girl, and she considers herself damaged goods.
Norah suffers an unthinkable existence. Compassion and understanding are key factors while trying to comprehend her demons.
Gornall's moving account of this complicated ailment, from which she herself struggles, writes this fictionalized tale describing it in all its frightening detail. To those who never grappled with emotional illnesses, this story offers insight into the disorders. Those who do face this will understand they are not alone.
By Jessica Treadway
Grand Central Publishing
December 6, 2016
Joy Enright is a high-school senior in Chilton, New York State. She’s not only smart, but she also inherited her mother Susanne's artistic talent, and she plans to attend a prestigious art school upon graduation.
Susanne is a fine arts professor at a nearby college living under stress. Her husband Gil may lose his business and their home, and suddenly Joy starts behaving differently. She dyes her hair black and becomes withdrawn, yet Susanne chalks it up to teenage angst. Amid her anxiety, Susanne begins an affair with Martin Willet, a striking African American graduate student who helps her to forget her troubles.
Harper Grove, best friends with Joy forever, realizes Joy is not herself. Joy takes up with "bad girl" Delaney Stowell and her two minions, all but shutting Harper out of their little clique. After Joy is arrested for drugs, Harper wants to help her and follows her to Elbow Pond where the kids hang out.
Though grounded, Joy meets Delaney. Harper tries to reason with her, knowing she's up to no good, but Joy dismisses her. Then the cops are at Harper's door asking about Joy who seemingly disappeared and is alleged to have drowned. Harper mentions seeing a black man in a car nearby wearing a ski mask, which is only partly right, for the man did not have a mask. The police present her with a photo of Martin Willet whom Harper identifies as the one she witnessed. A ski mask discovered in Martin's home prompts his arrest.
Meanwhile, Tom, son-in-law to the town's interim police chief Doug Armstrong is called to recover Joy's body supposedly in the pond, but his search comes up empty. Later, when Joy's strangled body is discovered in the woods, Tom determines his father-in-law is withholding information and does some digging on his own after Susanne contacts him for help.
Doug does not believe Tom is fit for his daughter, yet when Tom learns certain details that implicate Doug, his conscience has him informing the authorities though this may destroy his marriage.
Harper is drawn in many directions. She falsely identifies Martin as wearing a ski mask putting suspicion on him, but how can she face up to her lie? Her mother, acting strangely for years, is finally out of her shell, going out of the house and doing things she hasn't for a long time. Harper fears her lie will push her mom back into her old ways.
Susanne confesses her affair to husband Gil as they prepare to bury their child. She cannot sleep at night holding herself responsible for Joy's death.
“After she began the affair with Martin, it occurred to her that maybe part of the reason she'd deviated from her marriage had been to alleviate the existential panic she felt at night: now it was guilt that gave her insomnia, rather than despair. At least the guilt was focused. She could perseverate on what a bad person she was and how horrible she felt about betraying Gil, instead of the misty, inchoate notion that someday she too (if she was lucky! That was the hell of it!) would be committed to the care of others [like her mother-in-law in the nursing home.] Waiting to die. . . .
“When she imagined herself [in her mother-in-law's situation] she thought about Joy coming to visit, with her own husband and maybe a little girls, Susanne's granddaughter who would chase the resident pet cat and provide tiny pockets of joy to Susanne and the other inmates [her reference to the residents] with her cute voice, her funny questions, and her outsized smile.
“But now that could never happen. No grown-up Joy, no granddaughter. The idea that her daughter had died, had experienced this most profound event before she did, was beyond fathoming.”
While Harper wrangles with her dishonesty and the grief of abandonment and loss of her friend, Susanne deals with her guilt, along with Tom's principles with Doug's deception to find the actual culprit in the killing of this young girl.
Treadway's characters are well fleshed out, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing at every point up until the poignant conclusion.
How Will I Know You? is a complex tale where four families are inexorably tied together in fear, guilt, shame, and sorrow. How they persevere in their individual situations demonstrates the power of the human condition along with the necessity to carry on despite harrowing circumstances.
By Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke
Simon & Schuster
November 15, 2016
Casey Carter is in love and about to wed wealthy Hunter Raleigh III. They attend a gala for Hunter's foundation when Casey becomes violently ill. Everyone believes she is drunk, yet Hunter insists they head to his summer home in Connecticut. Unable to function, Casey passes out on the living room couch to awaken later upon hearing gunshots. She staggers to the master bedroom where she discovers Hunter covered in blood and fatally wounded. A trial ensues with Casey receiving a manslaughter verdict with a 15-year prison term.
For the duration of her sentence, Casey maintains her innocence, and when she is released, she is determined to clear her name and find Hunter's killer. Her cousin Angela remains steadfastly in Casey's corner, and Casey asks her to contact Laurie Moran, director of the TV show Under Suspicion to help her track down the real culprit. Casey's mother and Angela are against it, suggesting she change her identity and get on with her life, but she cannot live a lie letting others believe she killed the only man she loved.
Laurie is skeptical about taking this on assignment yet realizes even after these many years Casey's story will increase her ratings. Her romance with attorney Alex Buckley, who once worked with her on the show, is waning since he left to devote himself to his practice. She now must deal with Ryan Nichols, a narcissistic replacement and nepotism hire by Laurie's boss. She instantly dislikes the man but has no choice in the matter. Her relationship with Alex turns cooler as he will not discuss Casey with her, and she senses he is withholding information.
It is up to Laurie and her team to dig through old files and consult with various possible subjects as to who may have committed the crime although everything points to Casey as being guilty.
Blood tests prove Casey ingested Rohypnol the night Hunter died, but the pills later found in her evening bag suggested she planned the whole thing in a resentful rage. Gabrielle Lawson stated Hunter intended to cancel their wedding; a much more suitable candidate for an up-and-coming bachelor with political aspirations. It was also well known that patriarch General Raleigh did not want his son to marry Casey, and Casey's old flame, Jason Gardner wrote a tell-all book about her volatile and envious nature. With all indications of guilt, Laurie's investigation demonstrates Casey displayed the means, motive, and opportunity.
"Means: As Hunter's future wife, Casey had taken up his hobby of shooting and knew where he kept his weapon.
"Motive: Casey's engagement to a member of the Raleigh family raised her social station considerably. She could also be extremely jealous where Hunter was concerned. Hunter's father was pushing him to break up with Casey, and just days before his death, Hunter was photographed with socialite Gabrielle Lawson at his side.
"Opportunity: Cased faked her illness to create a partial alibi, claiming to be asleep during the murder. Then after she shot Hunter, she took Rohypnol so it would appear as if someone had drugged her."
Between incriminating email blogs, bad press, and secrets held not only by Hunter's family and Casey's ex her chance for exoneration also does not look good, though Casey persists. Then when Laurie meets with a secondary character, the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
This third installment in the Under Suspicion series co-authored by Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke is a prime whodunnit offering twists and turns up until the somewhat expected yet climatic conclusion.
By Linwood Barclay
November 1, 2016
The quiet upstate New York town of Promise Falls is having big troubles. Most of the residents are becoming sick, causing a disastrous situation. With symptoms of light-headedness, severe vomiting, visual disturbances, and irregular heartbeat, librarian Patricia Henderson is the first to succumb to this devastating illness.
As more of the townsfolk fall ill, Hillary and Josh Lydecker report their 22-year-old son George is missing, and they are beside themselves with worry. Though a rebellious kid, he never stays away from home for long. To add to their fear, their younger daughter texts them from upstairs stating she thinks she's dying.
Before long, the village is in chaos. People are passing away with no clue as to what is causing their illnesses and deaths. This all happens after a series of strange events recently took place.
The town's water is found to be tainted, and officials traverse the streets with bullhorns warning people not to drink from the tap. Who is contaminating the water and trying to destroy Promise Falls?
In addition to this madness, Detective Barry Duckworth is called to nearby Thackeray College after a student is killed. Upon his investigation, he notices this murder carries the same M.O. as that of two other young women within the past few years. One of those had been Olivia Fisher, engaged to marry a local named Victor Rooney. Due to meet at the park the day she died attacked, Victor was late, and though her screams were heard by many, no one saved her. Did Victor go off the deep end doing this as a form of retribution?
Duckworth, "speaking" in his own voice throughout the novel, speculates: "Just how angry was Victor Rooney about this town's failure to measure up? Angry enough to get even somehow?
"Angry enough to start sending out messages? Like twenty-three dead squirrels strung up on a fence? Three bloody mannequins in care ‘23’ of a decommissioned Ferris wheel? A fiery, out-of-control bus with ‘23’ on the back? And then there was Mason Helt and his hoodie with that same number on it, and what he had supposedly told the women he's assaulted. That he didn't mean to harm them, just to put a scare into them. That it was kind of a gig?
"And finally, there was today's date. May 23. A day Promise Falls would never forget. In a year or two or even less, some would suggest a memorial in the town square with the names of everyone who had died this day."
Barry is up to his armpits in problems and adding to them is former Mayor Randall Finley, who plans to regain his position. Finley owns a bottled-water company, and though known to be underhanded and devious, he shows up offering his product without charge and demonstrates a great determination to help. Barry wonders if he poisoned the municipal supply to regain everyone's respect.
With a cast of many characters, this third edition of the Promise Falls trilogy can be somewhat confusing, yet the tale does stand on its own. It is a genuine page-turner filled with suspense. The reader will be eager to read the first two books to gain a clearer insight into this third offering. And when you think you may have this crime solved, Linwood Barclay surprises with an extra twist.
By Nicholas Sparks
Grand Central Publishing
October 4, 2016
What is the definition of the “perfect life”? Does it mean owning a wonderful home, having a beautiful wife, a daughter you adore, and an executive position for which you've worked hard at for 13 years? Russ Greene has all this and believes things could not be any better. Sure, his work is stressful and he doesn't get to spend as much time with Vivian or five year-old London as he'd like, but isn't that the price one pays to have it all?
Russ’s one frustration at how much money Vivian spends, but he can't fault her, as she agreed to be a stay-at-home mom and raise London while he supported the family. So as charges mount up, Vivian dresses in style, which is not lost on Russ' womanizing boss Jesse Peters.
Russ remarks about this to Vivian, making her angry so she turns a cold shoulder to Peters, which ticks him off. Peters soon finds ways to belittle Russ, so perceiving the inevitable he decides to open his own firm. He experiences difficulty attaining clients, thanks to Peters blackballing him while assuring Vivian their savings will carry them. She does not alter her lifestyle, and Russ denies her nothing.
A few months pass with depression and dissatisfaction setting in, and Russ discerns Vivian pulling away from him and becoming combative. She lands a well-paying job with a man Russ considers cutthroat and devious, yet his say doesn't matter. What was to be part-time to help with bills turns out to become more than full time with Vivian traveling constantly. Russ is left with child care and household duties as well as getting his new venture off the ground. When Vivian is home, she never lifts a finger, showing her passive-aggressive, boorish, and completely selfish side.
Russ understands his marriage is faltering, but he loves his wife and gives into her at all times. The one benefit of their situation is he is able to spend more time with London, and they build an unbreakable bond. With his parents, his sister Marge and her partner Liz living close by they become a sounding board.
Vivian travels often from their Charlotte, NC, home allegedly to assist her employer in opening a new office in Atlanta. Vivian is secretive about her life, and Russ ponders relocating to keep them together as shown in this paragraph:
"And yet . . . if I suggested the possibility of moving the family, I wasn't sure how Vivian would respond. Would she even want that? I felt as though Vivian and I were sliding on ice in opposite directions, and the more I tried to hold on to her, the more determined she seemed to pull away. She had a desire for secrecy that nagged at me and while I'd assumed that we'd support each other in our employment challenges, I couldn't shake the feeling that Vivian had little enthusiasm for that kind of mutual reliance. Instead of she and I against the world, it fell like Vivian against me."
Russ descends into despair, questioning himself at every turn, wondering what he did wrong to cause this dissension.
"I wished I could be another person. Or, better, yet, I wished I could be a stronger version of me and I wondered whether I needed professional help. I wondered if professional help would change anything. Knowing me, I'd end up trying to please my therapist."
Russ's angst is palpable, but one cannot evade speculating why he does not “man up”! Why is he so agreeable to Vivian, even to her outrageous demands? Both he and Vivian love their daughter, but Russ becomes a doormat with Vivian's threats and accusations. Though sympathy is natural toward Russ, he needs a good kick in the butt.
As usual for Sparks, he touches the soul of emotions while giving the reader a lot to complain about. Russ's struggles and pain escalate throughout the novel, concluding in a manner one would expect with Russ's nature, though that doesn't necessarily leave one cheering him on.
By Debbie Macomber
October 3, 2016
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Julia Padden, a salesclerk in the men's department at Seattle's Macy's, is upbeat and vivacious. She has worked there several years while attending school to attain a degree in communications yearning for a higher-paying job in a field she loves. A coveted position is now open but lies between her and another candidate with the deciding factor going to whoever writes a blog that gets the most traffic. This endeavor becomes disconcerting for Julia does not know who her competition is, and her current Christmas decorations theme does not seem popular.
Julia groans when she steps into her building's elevator on her way to work and encounters her surly neighbor, Cain Maddox. The man sets her teeth on edge with his demeanor and never acknowledges her cheery "hellos." To make matters worse, she catches him red-handed stealing her newspaper. Confrontation doesn't faze him, which only angers Julia more, making her phone her best friend, Cammie for advice.
Cammie, ever the optimist, has the solution: "Kill Cain with kindness and write about it." Julia is indecisive, but after much thought decides to go ahead with the plan, entitling her blog "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Her first entry reads as follows:
I'm wondering if anyone else has encountered a genuine curmudgeon this Christmas season? This reason I ask is because I believe Ebenezer Scrooge lives in my apartment building. To be fair, he hasn't shared his views on Christmas with me personally. One look and I can tell this guy doesn't possess a single ounce of holiday spirit. . . .
. . . To put it mildly, he's not a happy man.
Just this morning I discovered he was something else: A thief.
She concludes her post for the day, adding, "I'm not convinced kindness can change a person. We'll find out together. I welcome your comments and ideas. . . ."
The next day upon seeing 50 hits on her page, Julia is surprised and delighted. She thinks she may be onto the start of something. She buys Cain coffee at Starbucks, where he usually stops in the morning, and she brings him homemade cookies, both of which he rejects. This proves to Julia what a Grinch he is and gives her the impetus to place more effort into softening him up.
Before long, her daily posting garners several more readers with many offering suggestions. In addition, Cain's tough outer shell begins to crack, and to Julia's astonishment, she finds herself falling in love with him. When he discloses things about his past, she fears she's made a mistake with her blog. She wonders what Cain would do if he knew she was writing about him and if it would end whatever closeness they are starting to share. As much as Julia wants this new job, is it worth the risk of hurting another?
Twelve Days of Christmas is a charming, heartwarming holiday tale. With poignant characters and an enchanting plot, Macomber again burrows into the fragility of human emotions to arrive at a delightful conclusion.
By Elizabeth Lesser
September 20, 2016
Marrow: A Love Story is not just a memoir about two sisters facing a traumatic situation; it is also the account of how they share by finding the way to accept themselves as well as others.
Elizabeth (Liz) Lesser is across the country at a wedding when she receives a call from her younger sister, Maggie telling her she is sick. She is diagnosed with lymphoma, a cancer she will die from if she doesn't have immediate treatment. She suffers through it hoping for a cure only to have the insidious disease return after seven years. Now the only hope for survival depends on getting a bone marrow transplant.
A sister with three siblings, it is Elizabeth who is the perfect match to be a donor for Maggie, and she does so willingly and with adoration for her sister. Elizabeth travels from her New York residence to Maggie's in Vermont where she stays for six days.
It is at the Dartmouth Medical Center in New Hampshire where Elizabeth is given injections of Neupogen for five days to propagate more stem cells to attain anywhere from two million to five million stem cells. On day six, she returns to the hospital where and IV is placed in a large vein. It takes about six hours to cycle the blood through a machine, called apheresis, a process where the stem cells are separated from her marrow blood cells, and the rest of the blood is returned to the donor after the whole bloodstream has been circulated several times. Then the stem cells are harvested and frozen until they can be injected into Maggie.
Meanwhile, Maggie undergoes rigorous chemotherapy and full-body radiation to destroy all the cancer cells from her body before she can receive Elizabeth's donor cells. Unfortunately Maggie's process takes a while, and she is not able to be given the harvest for a few months.
Elizabeth, cofounder of Omega Institute, which offers workshops focusing on health and healing, psychology and spirituality, and creativity and social change, suggests to Maggie that they should attend therapy together. A scholar of learning about humans as individuals, this was a chance for the both of them to get to the crux of their relationship beginning from childhood onward to eliminate old wounds and become more at peace with each other.
Her reasoning behind wanting therapy is as Elizabeth states in the following: "I want to check out if there is anything within me—in my thoughts and my feelings and my memories and my body, all the way down to the marrow of my bones, to my tiniest stem cells—that might interfere with the success of the transplant. And if there is, I want to examine it, hold it to the light, and let it go."
Maggie's purpose is simple. She wants to live; she wants the transplant to work.
With the meshing of cells, they become "Maggie-Liz" working together to save Maggie's life. In their session, Liz quotes from the Persian poet Rumi what they come to embrace: "Out beyond the ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." The therapy brings them to their "field" of acceptance and love. Through this, they depend on the doctors for the bone marrow transplant while they two enjoy a "soul-marrow transplant," getting to know and understand each other and love them as they are as they bond as one.
Many different authors and intellectuals are cited throughout the text giving credence to Elizabeth's quest for healing for Maggie. She also includes snippets from Maggie's journal through her journey toward recovery.
While she notates Maggie's illness, she illustrates how individuals are vulnerable and afraid to speak our minds or ask for what we need. Every human is imperfect, yet unique in their own way and what is most important in life is to love yourself, love others, and be forgiving.
A very profound and intense tale, Marrow offers enlightening with food for thought for everyone.
By B. A. Paris
St. Martin's Press
August 9, 2016
Jack Angel is a highly successful and charismatic attorney whose forte is dealing with domestic violence lawsuits. Grace Harrington is a buyer for Harrods who needs to travel frequently.
Eighteen months before, Grace met Jack at a local park where she was with her teenaged, Down's syndrome sister, Millie. She immediately falls in love with Jack when he charms Millie by dancing with her. They begin a whirlwind relationship, and Jack totally captivates Grace by his consideration of Millie and his endearing treatment of her. She feels she is the luckiest person on earth.
Jack suggests Grace quit her job to marry him, so she sells her flat and moves into a hotel until their nuptials. Millie, the maid of honor, trips on the steps going into the church and breaks her leg. Their parents who have since moved from England to New Zealand accompany Millie to the hospital insisting they go on as planned.
Thailand is their honeymoon destination, and Jack's gift to Grace upon their return is a home he purchased for them where Millie will reside when she turns 18. Worried about Millie, Grace does not want to go, especially since she and Jack are now her legal guardians.
On the night of her wedding, Grace gets the surprise of her life when Jack leaves her alone. At first, she believes he is taking a call from work, but when he does not come back, she panics. In the morning, she receives a text from him ordering her to meet him in the parking lot. Bewildered, confused, and shivering, she waits for him to show up, arriving much later than promised. Jack finally demonstrates his true side as evidenced by the following:
"Get in," he said, picking up the cases and loading them into the boot.
"What's going on, Jack?" I ask unsteadily. It was if I hadn't spoken. "For God's sake, Jack!" I cried. "What the hell is going on?"
"Please don't swear," he said distastefully.
I looked at him in amazement. "What do you expect? You disappear without a word, leaving me to spend our wedding night alone and then you turn up half an hour late to fetch me, leaving me waiting in the freezing cold! Surely I have a right to be angry!"
"No," he said. "You don't. You have no rights at all."
The nightmare begins. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Jack turns into the monster he is, showing his true colors. Not allowing her to either see or contact her sister, he whisks her away to Thailand, where he locks her in the room. Beside herself with fear, Grace recognizes she needs to get away from this madman. But how?
She manages to break out and alert the desk clerk when Jack arrives and states his wife is suffering from emotional problems and has not taken her medication.
After being held captive for two weeks, she soon comes home to the beautiful house Jack bought. Now knowing the "real" Jack, Graces becomes more frustrated at her attempts to escape. With each endeavor, Jack punishes her, yet she realizes she must flee before Millie comes to live with them for Millie is Jack's intended target.
For a debut, Paris grabs the reader from the beginning with a powerful and electrifying tale. Behind Closed Doors, a novel sure to make one's skin crawl also reveals no one truly knows what does go on behind closed doors.
By Camilla Way
August 2, 2016
Most everyone has done something in their past that they regret and want to forget. Edie has had somewhat of a roller-coaster life. She felt abandoned at age six when her father left, and tension escalated between her and her mother whom she blamed her mom for his leaving.
When they move to Fremton, England, she meets Heather, an overweight, unpopular classmate who is bullied and rejected. The two hit it off. Maybe it is because Heather also is unhappily dealing with a pious, Bible-thumping dad and a mother who exudes contempt for her after the death of her little sister. Whatever the reason, Heather is elated someone is finally paying attention to her, and she becomes obsessed with Edie.
Though Edie aspired to go to art school, at sixteen, she hooks up with Connor. Edie drags Heather with her when they go to Connor‘s apartment, and she possesses no principles when it comes to Connor for she is so in love with him. She’ll do anything to please him, getting drunk or high and even allowing him to abuse her. Heather is afraid for Edie knowing Connor is bad news, so she tries to make her leave him. Deep in her heart, Edie knows he is no good, yet she’s addicted, and though she agrees to Heather’s plan to leave him, it backfires and all hell breaks loose. Afterward, Edie goes to live with her Uncle Geoff in London.
Now, years later Heather shows up at Edie’s flat, unannounced and unwelcome. Shocked and seeing her old friend appears homeless and lost, Edie wants nothing to do with her.
Age 33, Edie is working as a waitress and finds herself pregnant. She refuses to tell the father and is ambivalent about being a mother. When she goes into labor and delivers little Maya she is all alone, never believing the pressures of being a single mother would be so hard. She sinks into the abyss of postpartum depression to the point where she cannot take care of herself or her baby.
Heather enters the scene, and in Edie’s weakness, she allows her old chum to take over. Heather moves in and cares for Maya day and night while Edie falls into the oblivion of sleep and despair, not even wanting to deal with her child. After six months, Edie sort of comes out of her fugue state.
She finally tunes into Maya with unconditional love. One day she gets out of the apartment alone with the baby. Her downstairs neighbor, Monica, who, though cool at first, turns out to be a confidant and notices Heather’s fixation with her and Maya, realizing she needs Heather out of her life. But getting rid of Heather is not easy and after she leaves, Edie’s apartment is broken into and she gets phone calls with hang-ups. Is Heather playing mind games and stalking her? In desperation, Edie emails Heather’s mother, Jennifer, asking to meet her. What Heather’s mom says scares Edie:
"When did she leave Fremton?” I ask. Jennifer purses her lips. “When she was seventeen.” A year after I did, then.
She sighs. “And then, just over a year ago, there was a phone call. From a hospital.”
I stare at her. “A hospital?”
"A psychiatric hospital. Somewhere in London. I believe she’d been living in hostels for a time before she was admitted.”
I shake my head. “I don’t understand--”
“Heather had always been a rather…highly strung child. I suppose her difficulties because more pronounced after her sister died, and then later, when she…well, after all that dreadful business before she left.”
…Finally I say quietly, “She thought you blamed her, for what happened to her sister. She thought you felt it was her fault.”
…She says softly but very clearly with infinite sadness, “It was her fault. I did blame her."
“But it was an accident,” I say, “a terrible, tragic accident.”
“Is that what she told you?”
Jennifer’s confession turns Edie’s blood cold. All she can think of is getting Heather out of her life and for good; for her sake and that of Maya’s. But it seems Heather’s mind whirls with anger and revenge over what happened to her at 16, and Edie can’t help but wonder what she is planning.
Watching Edie is written in Edie’s voice with both her current tale and the back story of a traumatic event. It proves to be a spine-tingling suspense thriller filled with obsession, rage and betrayal. Is anyone safe when someone has set their mind on righting a wrong? The climatic conclusion demonstrates that old adage, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.“
By Hannah Pittard
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
July 5, 2016
Contemporary Woman's Fiction
Veterinarian Maggie is not herself after being attacked near her Chicago home nine months ago. Several appointments with a therapist show she appears to be healing from her terror until she learns of another similar mugging of a coed not far from her. The only difference, this young woman is murdered.
Things become tense as Maggie regresses and becomes obsessed with the Internet, reading of cases where people are abducted, assaulted, and killed. Her husband, Mark starts wondering if he has lost the competent, optimistic wife he loves and begins to fantasize about one of his graduate students at the college where he is a tenured professor.
Mark's summer break is approaching when he decides they need to take their annual vacation to his parents' home in Virginia earlier than usual. He hopes the change of scenery will calm Maggie and rid her of her paranoia. Though they have a late start, they believe the trip can be made in one shot, but on the way, they learn of treacherous weather ahead of them.
Their dog, Gerome is like Maggie's child, and she constantly coddles him. When Mark suggests they find a motel due to the storm and the coming nightfall, she reminds him of Gerome's fretfulness in hotels, suggesting they try to drive straight through.
Their uneasy banter is typical of long drives being tired and irritable. Such is evident in their discourse:
Mark steered the car to the right shoulder, the rear tires skidding and came to a rough stop. To the left was the empty dark highway. To the right was a veritable rain forest filled with unknowns and unsavories. The sound of the hail was nearly deafening.
Maggie turned again to look out the rear window. "Is this safe?" she asked. "This can't be safe."
It was true they hadn't seen another car since the hail had started, but all it would take was one truck, one semi with a driver asleep at the wheel, and they'd be a crumpled box of sardines...
. . .Gerome, who had been sitting, now stood and took a step forward toward the front seat. Maggie scratched beneath his chin. "It's okay, boy," she said. "You're a good monkey."
Mark said, "Can't you do something about him? Please? I'm trying to make sense of all this."
"He's scared," Maggie said. "The rain is so loud. He doesn't know why we're stopped."
"Jesus--" Mark put an elbow into Gerome's chest and manhandled him into the back seat. . .
Their dialogue shows not only their vulnerability but also their underlying fear of the unknown, as well as Mark's jealousy of Maggie's attachment to the dog.
The weather slows their progress, and soon they find themselves on the deserted freeway, going slowly through the torrential rain. Both exhausted, they concede to try to find a place to stop for the night. Mark is driving, and Maggie falls into a deep sleep only to awaken and find she and Gerome are alone in the car in a dark parking lot. Her anxiety accelerates into anger at Mark for leaving them in the unlocked car, but she talks down her worries.
They locate a small hotel in the mountains, and though there is no power, they decide to stay the night. No AC, no hot water, what they need the most is rest. Soon after they settle in, Gerome needs to go out, and this is where the real assessment of their relationship takes place.
Ms. Pittard's analogy of a troubled marriage along with a horrendous downpour ties in well with the plot. Both Maggie and Mark share their voices throughout the book as each shows his or her feelings about their partnership and life together and dealing with Maggie's traumatic incident. Maggie's angst is easy to understand, but Mark's annoyance with her speaks little of him. Not until he is put to the test that he appreciates Maggie's strength and realizes she is the same woman he married.
Fast-paced and suspenseful, Listen to Me proves to be an apt title for Maggie expects Mark to be considerate of her frame of mind and fears.
By Claire Cook
July 4, 2016
Contemporary Women's Fiction
Sarah Hurlihy and boyfriend John Anderson purchase Sarah's childhood home with a massive renovation in store. Billy, Sarah's dad, will get his personal space, which he calls his man cavern.
Meanwhile, Billy enjoys driving the ice cream truck, handing out doggie treats with business cards for the three ladies who run Bark & Roll Forever to promote their dog walking and boarding services. He gets compensated with casseroles for which they are thrilled as Sarah proclaims she is not a cook!
The temperature is getting cooler, and Sarah discovers a mama cat under the front porch where she has given birth to four kittens. Sarah names her Pebbles, due to her markings, and hopes to save all the felines from cold and starvation.
Grabbing a wild animal is not easy, so she devises a plan to lure Pebbles into the house then get her babies. Sarah coerces her trust little by little giving her Fancy Feast and Slim Jims, and every time she feeds her, she puts the food bowl closer to the house, where she can lure her inside and into a carrier. She describes the feat and Pebble's reaction in the hilariously funny text:
The nanosecond the door slammed shut, Pebbles exploded. Instantaneously and completely, like that exact moment when the flame reaches the end of the fuse on a Fourth of July bottle rocket. She slammed into the windows on the kitchen’s single French door with mind-boggling force. The ancient panes of glass rattled but held on.
Pebbles spun around and whooshed down the long hallway, a super-feline whirlwind powered by fear. She hit the beveled glass inset in the heavy oak front door and bounced off. I thought she’d crumple to the ground from the impact, but instead she leapt into the living room, climbed the full-length drapes, digging her claws in as the dusty drapes swung back and forth. She perched on the valance, looking around for an escape route . . .
...Pebbles dashed back out to the center hallway. Instead of climbing the stairs, she scaled the family photo gallery as if it were a rock-climbing wall. Picture after picture crashed to the steps, glass splintering, pieces flying everywhere...
...By the time I caught up to her in the family room, she was scaling one of the built-in bookcases, trying to hide herself behind the contents of the shelves. I made it just in time to get one last look at the hand-blown glass vase we’d bought for our mother on her final Mother’s Day. Remembered that we’d filled it with a huge bouquet of purple lilacs we’d cut from the ancient bush right outside the kitchen door, their sugary springtime smell filling the room.
And then the vase crashed to the floor and splintered into a gazillion pieces.”
Billy arrives witnessing the mess. “Jesus, Mary, and Aloysius... Who let the cats in?
Sarah can't remember her dad being so angry, but when he borrows a friend's "canned ham" trailer and holes up in the back yard, she realizes she'll have to work hard to make amends.
John isn't too happy because Billy snatches his pooch, Horatio, after Sarah asks him to keep him away from the kitties until they are settled. Irritated, John becomes so distressed with the upheaval in the household he grabs Horatio and heads to Florida to visit his folks.
While Sarah deals with the chaos of the new feline family, she worries about the renovations as well as her job. The mom of one of her preschool students is bent on causing her trouble. Sarah doesn't know if she can handle the stress and also wonders if she's lost John.
Book five in this series offers another heartwarming tale of a boisterous, close-knit Irish family. Cook, writing in the first person, has the flair for pulling the reader into the story to feel a part of the happenings. This novel, filled with humor and astute characterization stands alone, yet one would be remiss by not reading the prior installments.
Must Love Dogs has already been a major motion picture, and now New York Times bestselling author Claire Cook’s hilarious and heartwarming series is begging to hit the screen again as a miniseries or a sitcom.
By Ariella Cohen
June 28, 2016
Cate Saunders is despondent, but more than that, she is angry. Her husband John sent to Iraq after joining the National Guard dies in action, and the government will not offer any details. Now, two years after her loss, the home she and John hoped to live in forever gets foreclosed. She is unable to find gainful employment as her only viable working asset is as a writer, a profession in which John supported her wholeheartedly while depending on his income.
Help comes by way of acceptance into a caregiver program located in the western Massachusetts town of Amberley, many miles from Cate's current home. With trepidation, she arrives in this picturesque burg and is welcomed by the residents.
Sheila Morazzo, the owner of Vitelli's Grocery, senses Cate's anxiety upon her arrival, and she graciously offers her the apartment above her establishment at a ridiculously low rate.
Mariam Rosen, a survivor of the Holocaust, once occupied the dwelling, and Cate stumbles across what appears to be entries from a chronicle Mariam wrote long ago. Cate's interest is piqued, and she feels less alone in her grief.
Helen Doyle, the nurse training Cate takes her under her wing, finding her to be an able and caring assistant. Her first patient is the elderly curmudgeon Beatrice McLean, who surprises Helen by befriending Cate, imparts the history of the town and how her department store saved it during the 1930s and 40s.
The Amberley Diner proprietor, Gaby French possesses a sixth sense. She knows not only what her customers want to eat, but is empathetic to others' needs and emotions.
Gritty and outspoken mechanic MaryLou Rice owns Lou's Auto Body though her gruffness gives way to a kind and loving heart.
The Veteran's of Foreign Wars of Amberley sponsor a "First Novel Contest" to unpublished novelists to submit a 100,000-word maximum book addressing the civilian legacy of war. The women know of Cat's passion for writing and urge her to enter the competition.
Though a fictional depiction, Cate weaves parts of Miriam's past from journal pages which mysteriously show up at her apartment. Cate connects with her new friends as they share their heartache with stories of their casualties of combat, assuaging Cate's limited information of John's demise. She later learns events of his death which confuse her, making her wonder if she even knew her husband.
Ms. Cohen's flair with prose is evident throughout the book. Her quintessential imagery shows in several instances, such as: "...yet memories were armor. That armor didn't shield her from sadness, for that was as constant as the rising sun. But it did keep the chill wind of despair from snaking its way toward her heart."
Cate interviews each of her friends and is intrigued by Helen's reminiscences of a conversation with Mariam, who was close to Helen's mom. Helen imparted Mariam's description of grief as such: "...the mind is like a series of rooms. There's a parlor we live in every day and sweep clean. There there's a back room we only visit when we need to; that's where we keep memories of family we've lost and dreams that are dead. And there's a locked room where we put selfish thoughts we don't want anyone to see. Not even God. Now the last room is one we wish we could forget exists, for it holds echoes of all the horrors we've seen."
Sweet Breath of Memory, so well written, it is unfathomable that this is a debut for this author. Much research of past and present abide by Ariella Cohen singing in her voice a melody of sorrow and anguish as well as hope, understanding, and the enduring essence of friendship.
By Stephen King
June 7, 2016
On April 10, 2009, at a fair promising 1000 jobs held in a dying metropolis, hundreds of people desperately in need of work line up in the cold outside the city center when a crazed man, Brady Hartsfield, later termed the Mercedes Killer plows through the crowd killing eight and seriously injuring others.
Hartsfield soon after attempts another killing mission during a concert filled with young teens only to be thwarted by Holly Gibney, who crushes his skull with Bill Hodge's "Happy Slapper," causing irreparable brain damage and sentencing him to a life in the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic of Kiner Memorial Hospital.
Bill, the detective instrumental in catching the murderer, AKA Brady Hartsfield is retired from the force and now running an investigation agency with partner, Holly.
In the years between the massacre, and January 2016, Bill visits Brady several times. Though the man appears catatonic, Bill senses he is cognizant of his presence, yet Brady knows if it can be proven, he would be put on trial.
Bill is at his doctor's office when his old partner, Pete Huntley phones him with disturbing news. He is at Janice Ellerton's home where she lives with her daughter Martine Stover, a woman gravely injured by the Mercedes Killer. Both apparently committed suicide and Pete is looking for Bill's take on the case. Bill forgoes his appointment and along with Holly arrives at the scene utterly baffled. To add to the mystery, they notice the letter Z written in magic marker in the bathroom, believing these women were murdered and somehow tied to Brady.
Holly discovers an outdated handheld game device called a Zappit, shoved into the cushion of Janice's easy chair, and she grabs it without telling anyone. Back at the office, she shows it to Bill, wondering why an elderly woman would be interested in it. They talk to the Janice's housekeeper who further states the women were happy and far from any notion of death.
Brady had been a computer whiz before pulling off his heinous crimes, so could he be behind this alleged suicide? And if so, how?
Dr. Felix Babineau, treating Brady since his admission, is using him as a guinea pig. After surgery and the so-called "vitamins" he administers during the years, he uncovers Brady's intellect is still viable and dangerous. Condemned to a hospital bed, Brady uses mind control to suit his purposes and under many visages; one as Dr. Z, where he controls Babineau's brain with his primary goal being to get revenge on Bill.
Babineau gets trapped by Brady's malevolence realizing the man is pure evil when he proposes going after a friend of Bill's, as shown by the following:
Babineau has a good idea of who she is, and he supposed he should care, but he doesn't. What he cares about is his own skin. How did he ever allow Brady to pull him into this? When did he stop having a choice?
"It's Hodges I'm here about. I'm quite sure he's on his way right now. To see you."
"Hodges has been here many times," Brady says, although it's true the old Det.-Ret. hasn't been around for a while. "He never gets past the catatonic act."
"He's started putting things together. He's not stupid, you said as much yourself. Did he know Z-Boy when we was just Brooks? He must have seen him around here when he came to visit you."
"No idea." Brady is wrung out, sated. What he really wants now is to savor the death of the Robinson girl, then take a nap. There is a lot to be done, great things are afoot, but at the moment he needs rest.
...Babineau, who is at least beginning to understand who is the boss, leaves Brady's room. As always it's a relief to do that as himself. Because every time he comes back to Babineau after being Dr. Z, there's a little less Babineau to come back to.
When Bill's friend Jerome Robinson's sister, Barbara almost dies after playing with a Zappit, they learn many of these devices have been presented to several youngsters who attended that ill-fated concert. These hold subliminal messages designed to promote suicide. Bill and Holly track down clues to prove Brady is behind these deeds. Though Bill learns the fateful results of his medical tests, nothing will prevent him from stopping this diabolical killer.
End of Watch is the last in the trilogy which includes Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers. A chilling ending to horror displays the Mr. King's uncanny ability to get under the skin and stimulate one's weaknesses to a cataclysmic conclusion.
By Emilie Richards
June 1, 2016
Contemporary Women's Fiction
One does not have to share blood to be a sister, for sometimes an emotional bond is greater than a biological one. Such is the case with Robin and Cecilia. The two met when relegated to foster homes. Cecilia, four years older than Robin, takes the girl under her wing when they come to live in the same home.
Cecilia, born to teenaged parents, lost her father in a construction accident when she was a toddler. Her mother, unable to cope, succumbs to drugs and different men, proving an unfit atmosphere for a young child.
Robin's mom, allegedly a victim of date rape, vanishes before Robin turns two. Her cold-hearted and overly strict grandmother raises her until she becomes ill, forcing nine-year-old Robin into the system.
The girls become friends forever when Robin at nine and Cecilia (CeCe) at thirteen are assigned to what is considered a therapeutic environment as Robin does not talk and CeCe is a troublemaker. Through the kindness and guidance of their caretakers, the two guarantee a lifetime connection, knowing they can always count on each other.
As adults, Cece becomes a famous singer wanting for nothing whereas Robin gives up her career as a photojournalist to marry work-driven lawyer Kris Lenhart and raise two children.
The women's camaraderie remains strong as the years pass. CeCe's fame escalates while Robin sees her marriage disintegrate. Kris is never home and the kids have other interests, leaving Robin as the maid, chauffeur, cook, etc. It takes being injured in a life-threatening car accident to make Robin recognize she wants to change her life.
CeCe visits her in the hospital with a proposition. A renowned director wishes to produce a documentary showcasing CeCe's life as a foster kid for which CeCe begs Robin to be the photographer. Away from her passion for many years, this is what Robin needs to focus on herself. Though she understands Kris will not be happy about her decision, she is determined to do this. Now is time for him to be a parent to their children and attend to household duties.
Kris does not like CeCe and appears jealous of the bond she shares with his wife. Robin tries to explain to him her close relationship with CeCe in the following:
"I'll teach you a lesson about why some people survive terrible things and go on to flourish at least more or less. Somebody loved them. Somewhere along the way somebody cared enough to stretch out a hand and help them along.
And, if the survivor is blessed with strength and some modicum of insight, then he or she may find courage to keep moving through the bad times. . . . And those horrible years convinced me there was nothing left to lose, so why not plunge in head first and take whatever chance presented itself?"
Throughout production, CeCe showcases her life from birth demonstrating the difficulties she faced as a child without having a stable family and feeling unloved. While CeCe faces demons and her inability to commit to relationships, Robin deals with her past while accomplishing something just for her even though it could cause a final break between her and Kris.
Emilie Richards approaches her tale with the protagonist facing a life-changing situation, allowing her to face the reality of her life and recognize it is not what she envisions. Penned with an open-minded approach to this dramatic topic, the book ends up conveying what many do not realize about the hardships and torments children can face in the foster system.
With its straightforward, honest, and uplifting prose, When We Were Sisters touches on long-lasting emotions of youngsters growing up in environments dissimilar to their peers. The well fleshed out and plausible characters add particular dimension, and though one may not understand the complexity of their earlier lives, the dialogue ensures the authenticity of the issues explored in this novel.
By Mary Kubica
May 17, 2061
“a finely-crafted thriller.”
On a cold November Sunday, the alarm is going off in Esther Vaughan's Chicago apartment. Quinn Collins, Esther's roommate, heads to Esther's room, noticing the window to the fire escape is open with frigid air blowing in. Esther is nowhere in sight, and Quinn questions why she would leave via the fire escape. After several hours, Quinn grows nervous. They are friends. Where is Esther? Why would she go without saying anything?
Quinn discovers a letter Esther wrote addressed to "My Dearest," which leaves her totally flummoxed. She tries to file a missing person's report but is told Esther being a grown woman would probably return within 48–72 hours, but if not, to come to the station.
On Monday, Esther is still gone. A call her work shows she isn't there, nor is she at any of the local hospitals. Troubled, Quinn digs through Esther's belongings only to discover Esther is not who Quinn thinks she is. As Quinn states:
She's grieving and I don't know a thing about it.
But why, I wonder, why is Esther sad?
And what else hasn't she been telling me?
There's more. Another document that I find in the pile of documents. A form, an official-looking form that reads State of Illinois across the top. In the circuit court of Cook County, Petition for name change.
While Quinn is perplexed and trying to sort things out, 18-year-old Alex Gallo exists day-to-day in a small Michigan town about 70 miles from Chicago. He works as a dishwasher at a cafe, tends to his drunkard father, and pays the bills. Though offered a full scholarship to college, he considers it his duty to look after his dad.
Alex realizes he's stuck. He is angry at his mother for abandoning him as a child yet believes he caused her to go. Now he's doing penance as a caregiver. For a young man on the threshold of his life, his angst is evident:
Pops is on the sofa when I go, his arms and leg spread out in all directions. There's an open bottle of Canadian whiskey on the coffee table--Gibson's Finest--the cap lost somewhere in the cushions of the sofa, or clutched in the palm of a clammy hand probably. He's snoring, his chest rattling like an eastern diamondback. His mouth is open, head slung over the arm of the sofa that when he finally does wake up--hung-over, no doubt, he's sure to have a kind in his neck. The stench of morning breath fills the room, exuding like car exhaust from the open mouth--nitrogen, carbon monoxide, and sulfur oxides flowing in the air, making it black. Not really, but that's the way I picture it, anyway--black--as I hold a hand to my nose, so I don't have to smell it. . . .
But still, even in sleep, I see defeat. He's a defeatist, a calamity much worse for the forty-five-year-old men than love handles and receding hairlines.
He's also a drunk.
A young woman comes to the cafe leaving Alex awestruck. Though reserved and older, he is fascinated and follows her, almost stalking her. She hides in the vacant house across the street from where Alex lives. He wants to understand her better but is hesitant to delve into her personal life.
Between working, minding his dad, and wondering about this stranger, Alex attends to Ingrid, a middle-aged agoraphobic. He finds peace in her home, and she often queries him about his life, though they share a lot--being alone, miserable, and pathetic.
Don't You Cry is written in the alternative voices of Quinn and Alex as each plod through a journey of acceptance and finding their way. Though both are independent, they are naive and crave approval and love.
Fast-paced and articulate, Mary Kubica drops clues like crumbs to leave the reader speculating the rationale of joining these two characters in one story. The similes and metaphors shown in the quoted material offer visual effects while the plot electrifies up until the unexpected conclusion, tying everything together into a finely-crafted thriller.
By Lydia Millet
W.W. Norton & Company
May 3, 2016
Anna, married to Ned, a charismatic workaholic who is never home, gets pregnant and Ned demands she abort it, but she refuses. Ned does not support her decision, does not help during pregnancy, or attend the delivery. He also does not bother with the baby Anna names Lena.
A weird phenomenon hits Anna at Lena's birth: she hears voices and only when Lena is with her. She worries she is schizophrenic and researches the illness. The bizarre thing is no one else hears them, and Anna does not disclose these episodes to anyone.
With Lena's first words the voice stops, yet Anna keeps her journal of the messages of different dialects and languages spoken, and she does she stop researching this occurrence.
Anna writes her take on this as the following: "Strange things exist, astonishing oddities--transparent butterflies, three-foot-wide parasites that look like orange flowers, babies born pregnant with their town twins... I want to know whether the unknowns in nature are only unexplained phenomena or whether there are genuine anomalies-whether a true anomaly exists. I doubt that it's possible for an event to occur only once, to one person, and as I look and look for an answer the more it seems to me that what are called anomalies aren't unique buy only symptoms of gaps in understanding." She backs her research with anecdotes taken from different sources, such a Wikipedia, the Bible, and the dictionary.
For several years, Anna experiences a sheltered life in Anchorage while Ned pursues other women and a public persona. Finally, when Lena is four, Anna takes Lena and a few meager belongings and leaves.
They travel relying on funds Anna withdrew; not nearly half of what she contributed to the marriage, thanks to her parents' generosity which she feels is why Ned chose her. His history is of being poor, raised by a drunk with nothing, so Anna thinks he saw a way to climb out of poverty through her family.
The Wind and Pines, a shoddy motel in coastal Maine is where Anna settles, hoping they can enjoy privacy and distance from Ned's control; though he does not care for her or their child. They befriend Don, the manager, and Lena blossoms in the secluded area. The few new residents all share a common bond; they are either hiding from something or are looking for solace and answers.
Anna soon becomes paranoid after learning Ned plans to run for office. She believes he will hunt her down to show he's a happily-wed family man, something he most definitely is not. She discusses her fears to the others, and they try to protect her, but Ned's claws reach many miles, and before she can flee, he locates her.
Ned offers Anna a proposition. She is to play the doting wife and come back home. He will portray the adoring husband and father until he gets elected. He promises her the divorce she so rightfully requests once he's in office. Anna knows different. Ned is a sociopath, and nothing will deter him.
Anna tells her story as a first-person account, leaving nothing to the imagination. The horror and resentment she holds toward Ned are palpable as she works to save her child and herself from the clutches of a madman to whom people are only a means to get what he desires.
Ned's machinations are chilling, and though his outward persona may be charming, beneath his facade lies a snake ready to strike. In Anna's naïveté, she is initially drawn to him, honestly believing he loves her, yet his authentic side is quickly revealed. How can one fight against this force of iniquity? The story climaxes when Ned kidnaps Lena, forcing Anna into action. This proves to be a test of Anna's strength as well as a depiction of the powers of good against evil.
Ms. Millet's characters are authentic and well-rounded, and the plot is entirely realistic making the reader wonder how they would handle such a situation. From the vivid portrayal of Alaska to the icy cliffs of the Maine seacoast, Sweet Lamb of Heaven is a psychological thriller sure to offer a spine-tingling read.
By John Hart
Thomas Dunne Books
May 3, 2016
Detective Elizabeth Black is proud of being a cop and follows the law to a T. She is in this line of work all because of Officer Adrian Wall, a man who saved her life when she was 17 and who is considered a hero--that is until the body of Julia Strange is found murdered with evidence pointing to Adrian. Elizabeth believes in Adrian's innocence and stops at nothing to verify this, turning her fellow officers against her. Despite her assertions, he is incarcerated.
Now, 13 years later, Adrian is released, a broken man from suffering unspeakable horrors under the hand of the warden's henchmen. The night he is freed, Adrian is patronizing a local bar near the penitentiary when he is confronted by Julia's son, Gideon. An infant at his mother's death which turned his father into a bumbling drunk, Gideon is consumed with hate. It is his intention to kill Adrian. The owner, quick to respond shoots the young man before he can gun down Adrian.
Minutes later, the warden along with his guards and the police are ready to throw Adrian back into prison, unwilling to listen to the tavern owner's recount of the incident.
Elizabeth, though suspended for the brutal killing of two men after the abduction of 18-year-old Channing Shore rushes to the scene even, not letting the suspension stop her from investigating Gideon's shooting. She holds a soft spot for the motherless boy and has taken him under her wing seeing his father is no longer able to care for himself, let alone his son.
Now Elizabeth worries about Channing. The state police want to incarcerate Elizabeth for what they consider a gangland slaying of the men who destroyed Channing's innocence, but Channing is Elizabeth's only concern.
Between visiting Gideon in the hospital where he is surviving the bullet wound, Elizabeth befriends Channing while hoping to prove Adrian is not guilty. She feels isolated in her quest for the truth, though her partner, Charlie Beckett seemingly concerned about her is one she can trust. Or can she?
Pandemonium strikes when another woman is found placed like a sacrifice on the altar of the abandoned church where Elizabeth's father used to be the preacher. Of course, everyone considers this is Adrian's doing, but Elizabeth knows it is not.
Throughout the novel, the killer speaks revealing his personality without any disclosure of his identity. The following displays his madness:
He knew people came to the church...so he knew someone would find the body. But it made him sick to see the police there. No one else could understand the reasons or its purpose, the void in his heart it filled so perfectly.
And the girl on the altar?
She was his, too, but not as much as the others he'd chosen, not with cops looking at her and touching her and speculation. She should be in the stillness and the dark, and he hated what was happening behind the shards of stained glass: the bright lights and jaded cops, the medical examiner going about his dull, grim business. They would never grasp the reasons she'd died or why he'd chosen her or the incentive to let her be found. She was so much more than they could ever understand, not a woman or a body or a piece of some puzzle.
In death, she was a child.
At the end, they all were.
This fast-paced, suspenseful tale reveals massive greed and corruption within the judicial and penal systems. Betrayal and condemnation abound with insanity showcased as well as personal inner strength and the belief in oneself.
By Kim Michele Richardson
April 26, 2016
Gunnar Bishop assumes guardianship of his five-year-old niece RubyLyn after her parents die. Now, in 1969, RubyLyn ("Roo") is 15 and works in her uncle's tobacco field in Nameless, Kentucky. Poverty surrounds them and Gunnar's overly strict rules confine her. Though Roo has a home, food, and clothes on her back she longs for more.
Roo finds diversion by making paper fortune tellers including her realistic drawings and prophecies. She gives them to the residents of Nameless who believe she possesses the "gift" by her predictions, which are based on hunches. Some are on target, though it's mostly luck and her misplaced dreams to escape the hardship and prejudice of the town.
Gunnar, ornery and mean, disdains Roo's talent and never praises her for anything—especially her work in the fields. He devises elixirs from herbs when he believes she is sassing him, forcing her to ingest them despite the fact they are painful, causing her gums and teeth to bleed. He also mixes other concoctions for illnesses, as Roo states below:
"Gunnar'd preferred his medicine potions of bark, root, and coal oil, too, over the doc's visits. Most hill folk did. Once when I was little and couldn't shake a bad cold, Gunnar'd feed me heaping spoonfuls of coal oil and molasses for two weeks."
If he thinks Roo is misbehaving he'll lecture her, demanding she be "GodPretty" (the term described below) while feeling no remorse for his behavior.
"As sure as ugly is found in the morning addict waiting to score in the parking lot of a Kentucky Shake King, there as GodPretty in the child who toiled in the tobacco field, her fingers whispering of arthritic days to come."
Gunnar finds his solace in "talking" to the ashes of his dead wife, which reside on the mantle, as well as through whiskey.
Along with escapism from reality through her illustrations, Roo is best friends with Rainey Ford, her black neighbor who also works Gunnar's fields. Theirs is more than a friendship, and they plan to leave the hills for a better life.
The mountain life is rife with not only poverty, but also illiteracy, and many do not attend school after the eighth grade, however Roo is determined to graduate and better herself.
Some neighbors, especially the Crocketts, are nasty and have a vendetta against Gunnar. The Crockett sons think nothing of having their way with or beating the girls. Roo's friend Henny Stump—whom she considers a sister—falls for one of the boys; she’s looking for a way out from her drunkard father and her mother who keeps having babies, much to her distress.
Henny and Roo are troubled when Henny's older sibling gets pregnant by a Crockett. Roo predicts the baby will be a girl, and Henny's mother demands Roo attend the delivery, which upsets her. Mrs. Stump sells the infant to an affluent, childless couple, saying they cannot afford to feed another mouth.
The summer of 1969 lingers on with Roo witnessing more hardship and pain, but her friendship with Henny, Rainey, and a trader woman named Rose Law, who brings Roo books and other items, offers brightness to her life. Soon tragedy strikes, revealing secrets and changing lives.
Kim Michele Richardson aptly portrays the impoverished life of the hill people with her images of the beauty yet hardship of the mountains as well as the way this particular world experienced discrimination in the sixties.
By Mary Higgins Clark
Simon & Schuster
April 5, 2016
Forty-three-year-old Betsy Grant is arrested for the death of her spouse, Dr. Ted Grant. Diagnosed many years ago with early onset Alzheimer's, Ted regresses rapidly into the disease. Married for 17 years, Betsy loves her husband and will not consider consigning him to a nursing home. Rather, she takes on the tedious task of his care despite his mercurial and often violent outbursts.
On Ted's birthday, Betsy honors him with a party in their home. Invited are his two former orthopedic partners, their wives, and Ted's caretaker, Carmen Sanchez. The evening commences smoothly; however, at dinner Ted becomes aggressive and strikes Betsy, causing her to admit she cannot take it anymore.
The guests leave, and Carmen settles Ted by giving him a sedative. Carmen complains of being ill, so she leaves, and Betsy retires, taking a sleeping pill, knowing Ted will sleep through the night.
The next morning Carmen arrives to find Ted deceased, having expired during the night. At the funeral home, they discover Ted's skull reveals recent trauma resembling assault with a blunt object. Suspicion turns to Betsy, and she is charged with murder.
Delaney Wright, a TV journalist assigned to Betsy's trial, firmly believes in Betsy's innocence even though the evidence points to her guilt. During this time, Delaney informs her friends Alvirah and Willy Meehan of her desire to locate her birth mother. This need soon develops into an obsession, and the Meehans’ increased resolve to find Delaney’s biological mother.
As the court proceedings move forward with in-depth interrogations of the witnesses, Alvirah searches for clues to Delaney's heritage. Her discovery leaves Delaney shaken, her attention off the case.
Meanwhile, Alan Grant, Betsy's stepson, is in dire financial straits and due to be the sole heir of the Grant millions if the Betsy is incarcerated. While this is a strong motive to suspect Alan, his alibi for the night of his father's death is airtight.
The differing cast offers unique voices with plenty of inner dialogue, so the reader is privy to profound insight into a character's thoughts. An example is the following regarding Delaney:
"She knew that the periodic craving had resumed when the feature about the reunited son and mother was aired, and it had been deepened by her discussion of the subject with Alvirah and Willy at Patsy's Restaurant. I wonder if Alvirah was serious about doing some of her own research, she thought as she passed Sixth Avenue. Then she smiled involuntarily. If Alvirah Meehan said she was going to do something, she's doing it, she decided. Well, who knows? Maybe she will find some way to trace the midwife."
Throughout the many subplots, each character is distinct and well fleshed-out. Like Betsy's attorney, Robert Maynard:
"As usual Maynard was impeccably dressed, this time in a gray suit with a faint pinstripe. His white shirt, cuff-linked sleeves and subtle tie, a blend of deep blue shades, gave off the appearance of well-groomed success. His rimless glasses enhanced chilly gray eyes. His expression was usually dour, as though someone had asked him to carry an impossible heavy load on his back."
This book's logical, free-flowing approach offers more than one mystery to fill the pages, displaying depth and division within the tale, while producing a cohesive and compelling conclusion. Once again, Mary Higgins Clark validates her title as "Queen of Suspense."