Friday, December 18, 2015

The Day We Met

The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman

Claire writes in her memory book with an unsteady hand, knowing that this moment of lucidity may end at any time. The muddled "fog" inside her brain lifts for a while, so she seizes the opportunity to record precious memories for the family she will eventually leave behind. Once she was an aspiring writer. That was before her mind started to fade and gradually slip away. The pages of her unpublished book are tucked away in a room she no longer enters. Now she lives with fear and frustration in her inability to tell time or grasp the simplest of words  Just like her father, Claire suffers from early on-set Alzheimer's disease. There is no cure.

Claire is a determined, fiery, red-haired teacher with a temperament to match. Her stubborn, independent daughter, Caitlin, was born out of wedlock, and for years it was just the two of them facing life's hurdles alone. Then a much younger home contractor named Greg appeared at her door, and much to her surprise, Claire was like a giddy teenager in love. Now married and the parents of precocious Esther, Claire and Greg are a surprisingly happy couple until Claire begins to exhibit the symptoms of Alzheimer's.

History repeats itself when Caitlin reveals her own unplanned pregnancy. Claire reacts with a new sense of urgency, terrified that the Alzheimer's gene may be passed on for generations to come. Claire's Mum, often a thorn in her side, becomes the anchor her daughter needs. Much to Greg's dismay and sorrow, his wife looks at him as a stranger, unable to grasp the passion they once shared. As Claire deals with the total upheaval in her life, she finds that those she loves believe in her and will do anything to hold on to her memory.

British author Rowan Coleman wrote this touching novel based on her own life experiences. The novel wasn't born overnight, but evolved over a period of time in which Coleman contemplated the devastating effect dementia and Alzheimer's have on families. From that contemplation, Claire's story was created.

Anyone who has experienced the cruel effects of Alzheimer's disease on family will relate to this novel. In comparison to Still Alice, written in 2010, Coleman takes a different approach to the traumatic effects of this illness. Chapters of overwhelming sadness and grief are intermingled with humor and candid thoughts of a strong woman facing an uncertain future. Read through the tears to experience a superbly written book.

An emotional story about the bond between mothers, daughters, husbands, and wives; this book is a true celebration of life and love.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Twain's End

Twain's End by Lynn Cullen

"The man who does not read is no better than the man who cannot read"

Just one of the insightful quotes attributed to author and humorist Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Beloved and admired by so many, his life story was immortalized on stage with esteemed actor Hal Holbrook portraying the icon.

Now historical author Lynn Cullen (Mrs. Poe, 2013)  reveals a distressing, little-known side of the famous writer.  According to her extensive research, (diaries, writings, and letters) he was a man riddled with flaws. Often cruel and demoralizing to anyone who crossed his path, his spoken words were vastly different than his illustrious words on paper.

The book concentrates primarily on the relationship between Clemens and his long-suffering assistant, Isabel Lyon (affectionately referred to as The Lioness). Beginning at age 25, she devoted seven years of her life to "The King".  She repeatedly endured his ridicule, bullying, taunts,and tantrums while secretly, longing for a more intimate and permanent relationship with him. Samuel led her to believe he had honorable intentions. But then he seemed to have a penchant for impressionable young women in general. Surrounded by young girls who worshiped him, they were flattered by his flowery words and subtle advances. In her heart, Isabel knew she was different somehow; that her undying devotion to him would result in marriage. How wrong her assumptions proved to be....

The years Isabel spent with Clemens included his ever-present wife, Livy. A sickly, tormented invalid, she exuded a certain "hold" over her husband.  Daughter Clara was unlucky in love and often sought Isabel's advice during troubled times. In an instant she could turn on her father's confidante, however, and treat her shamefully. Jean, the mentally ill daughter, was a constant source of concern, and it was Isabel who often soothed and comforted her, not her own father. In the end, Isabel's loyalty proved to be a fruitless endeavor.

Eventually, Isabel recognized the fact that life was passing her by. She married Ralph Ashcroft, the business manager that Clemens relied upon. The fury and wrath bestowed upon Isabel by Clemens and Clara after her marriage was unfathomable. In a 429 page tirade, the pair proceeded to denounce Isabel as" a traitor....and salacious slut".

Many might question why Isabel would tolerate such abuse over the course of their relationship.
It's certainly a valid response and one only she could answer. Isabel died at the age of ninety-four, still unwilling to speak candidly of the man she adored.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Along the Infinite Sea

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Europe 1936 collides with swanky Palm Beach 1966 to set the stage for the final chapter in the lives of the effervescent Schuyler sisters. The focus now is on Pepper, the youngest and most volatile of the three women. This historical fiction novel is filled with romance, unbridled passion, and mystery. If you haven't read the books leading up to Pepper's adventures, no worries. This one can stand alone.

Pepper Schuyler sighs with satisfaction as she examines the sleek, black Mercedes in front of her. What a stroke of luck, finding this abandoned, valuable vehicle in the garage at her family's Cape Cod estate. Some anonymous buyer is willing to pay a great deal of money for this vintage beauty. That will secure Pepper's future, uncertain as it may be. As she stares down at her swollen, distended belly, she feels an overwhelming burst of love for her unborn child. How could a beautiful, self-assured woman like herself from a prominent ( but dysfunctional) family wind up in such a predicament? Maybe falling in love with a married, high-profile politician wasn't a wise thing to do, but with cash in hand, she can put her problems behind her....

For Annabelle Dommerich, the 1936 Mercedes is more than just an engineering masterpiece.  It's a symbol of the astounding events that shaped her life in the 1930's. She is more than willing to pay handsomely for resurrected memories. Feisty, stubborn Pepper Schuyler doesn't know the history behind the car, and Annabelle plans to keep it that way. The two women become comrades over a gleaming automobile.  Annabelle slowly offers guidance and support to this unsuspecting renegade. She takes Pepper on a trip to a small town off the coast of Georgia, surmising that a powerful man is determined to make claims on Pepper's child.  At the same time, Annabelle comes face to face with her own secrets from long ago. Secrets like a clandestine affair with a Jewish lover, and a royal title bestowed upon her from marriage to a high-ranking German officer. Two incredibly strong women, years apart in age, yet with so much in common. Determined to survive.

If you choose to explore the history of the Schuyler sisters, check out Tiny Little Thing and The Secret Life of Violet Grant.  Also recommended is  A Hundred Summers reviewed on this blog in September 2013; it's another engaging historical romance with characters that appear in the author's other novels.

Thoroughly entertaining, the saga of Pepper Schuyler and Annabelle Dommerich is sure to appeal to the hopeless romantic in all of us.

Friday, November 6, 2015

God Whispers Nudges, Fudges, and Butterfly Moments

God Whispers
Nudges, Fudges, and Butterfly Moments
by Liz Thompson

We've all had those moments, that "gut" feeling when it comes to making decisions, whether they be big or small. The subtle whisper, the slight nudge, all could be God's way of leading us in a new direction. Listen and the rewards may be worthwhile.

For those that believe in chance, this may not be the book for you. For those who believe in the power of a Greater Being, I would encourage you to read the words of the many followers who have heard the whispers from Him in their hearts and souls.

This book is a compilation of stories, short essays and poems written by those who have experienced overwhelming peace and joy from recognizing what they believe is an inner voice leading them through both the good and bad times in life. The "butterfly" moments in our lives can occur at any age; times when we break out of our cocoons to finally realize our full potential. They often happen unexpectedly when we think that life has passed us by. The encouraging and moving words of those who have found an inner strength from their faith is uplifting and reassuring. Overcoming obstacles and forgiving ourselves and others are themes reiterated throughout this inspirational book.  

This is the second book written by author Liz Thompson, a columnist featured in 23 suburban newspapers across the Columbus, Ohio area.  I reviewed her first book  Day by Day  in August, 2015, which described her struggles and challenges in overcoming progressive hearing loss. Much like that book, this second one offers spiritual hope and guidance to those who believe in a higher power. Filled with biblical passages and personal testimonials and quotes, I found myself reading a few pages at a a time to contemplate the thought-provoking material.

Listen closely for the "whispers" and savor the "butterfly" moments. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

See Me

See Me by Nicholas Sparks

Colin Hancock is painfully aware that he's been given a second chance at life. His explosive, volatile temper has cost him dearly, both personally and professionally.  Estranged from parents that defended him years ago when he was a rebellious teenager, he realizes how much they sacrificed by coming to his rescue until they could take no more.  But now he's determined to turn his life around. He has an opportunity to redeem himself by going back to school and releasing his frustrations and anger in a less destructive way. The promise of prison isn't just an idle threat. Law enforcement is watching his every move.

Then one rainy night, he meets a striking, raven-haired beauty named Maria Sanchez on a deserted highway. The connection he feels after their first encounter continues in the days to follow. As their relationship grows, Colin learns that he isn't the only one with demons from the past. Maria is also struggling to forget and move on from a terrifying experience as an assistant district attorney in Charlotte, N.C. Yet she has the nagging feeling her nightmare is far from over.

Maria is starting over in  her hometown of Wilmington, surrounded by loving family and friends. Nevertheless, the panic attacks still surface every time she thinks of the menacing threats aimed at her by a disgruntled relative of the slain woman she represented. When it appears that this crazed individual is intent on carrying out his vendetta, Maria turns to Colin for his unconditional support. She finds herself drawn to this man who often frightens her with his unconventional ways, but at the same time, makes her feel safe and secure. Can he save her from the devious mind that is determined to destroy all that is precious to her?

Die-hard Nicholas Sparks fans will undoubtedly enjoy this latest release, all 482 pages. Others may be disappointed. In a dynamic move, Sparks deviates from his signature writing style to create a story that is bolder and less heartrending than his previous books. Suspense and mystery are added to romance.  Perhaps the author's personal life may have precipitated the challenge of writing a novel that enters new territory. In any case, the likability of these vulnerable, flawed characters in See Me will be up to the reader. Sparks still maintains his unheralded success as a gifted writer; this one could also become a motion picture.

"See me as I see you..." There's a new purpose and vision from best-selling Nicholas Sparks this time around.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine

The Gilded Life of Matilda Duplaine by Alex Brunkhorst

Author Alex Brunkhorst unveils her first novel with a flourish. She combines old Hollywood glamour with the innocence of pure, naive love. The result is a charming, captivating story that readers will savor long after the last page.

Reporter Thomas Cleary is a lucky man. After a controversial stint in Manhattan, he's landed a plum newspaper job at the L.A. Times. His first assignment is an interview with Lily Goldman, the daughter of deceased Joel Goldman, the legendary and formidable Hollywood mogul and studio head. The affable and humble Thomas is an immediate hit with the beautiful people, and he soon finds himself immersed in a world of opulence, wealth, and grandeur. Lily introduces him to the sultry, alluring actress Carole Partridge and her writer husband, the easy-going, Charles. He meets stars at every lavish, resplendent party he attends. When he shakes the hand of  David Duplaine, indisputably the hottest producer of box-office hits in Tinseltown, he is truly intimidated. Suddenly, he is thrown into a life that dreams are made of, and he finds himself relishing each and every moment.

Then Thomas makes a startling discovery one evening alone while visiting the secluded grounds of David's estate. A winsome, fascinating young beauty named Matilda apparently lives a lonely but privileged existence there. She's never ventured off the property in her twenty years of being alive. Shrouded in mystery, Thomas and Matilda form an extraordinary bond. After numerous clandestine meetings, the couple decide to escape the estate. Lily agrees to help. They travel to an abandoned home in Hawaii that once belonged to her father, the powerful Joel Goldman. While on this lush, tropical island, Thomas begins to see subtle changes in Matilda.; changes that make him question his devotion to her. Becoming more and more suspicious of Matilda's upbringing, Thomas begins his own investigation, unearthing clues left behind in the Hawaii home. He gradually uncovers startling lies and deceit about the young woman who has stolen his heart. Can they survive what he has discovered?

Refreshing and soothing. this novel takes a most unlikely scenario and turns it into a magical love story, one that you will enjoy watching unfold.

And you can write your own ending......


Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Murder House

The Murder House by James Patterson and David Ellis

It's known as the Murder House, this sprawling, Gothic mansion located at 7 Ocean Drive in the Hamptons. The locals walk by with curious stares and hushed whispers. Years ago, a crippling, uncontrollable fire killed the couple trapped inside, with no reasonable explanation for the blaze. The structure was rebuilt. Now an influential Hollywood producer and his mistress are found murdered in the same cursed location by the sea.

Detective Jenna Murphy is back in the Hamptons, working for her Uncle Langdon, the Chief of Police. It's a big change from her ill-fated law enforcement career in Manhattan. This latest
high-profile crime puts Jenna at the center of a complicated investigation in the land of luxury. As she delves deeper and deeper into the case, she realizes that the police may be accusing the wrong man of the crime. The brutality and horror of the past meets the present. Detective Murphy is getting far too close to unraveling the mystery.  She just may be the next unfortunate victim.

If you need a James Patterson "fix", put this one on reserve. The legendary writer and his partner have created a raw,  heart-pounding, suspense- thriller full of intrigue and uncertainty. So many possible suspects, you'll have lingering doubts about each and every one of them. His trademark easy-to-read chapters make this a wise choice if you are looking for a spicy read on a chilly October night by the fire.

Friday, October 2, 2015

In a Dark, Dark Wood

In a Dark, Dark Wood  by Ruth Ware

Lenora Shaw lies battered and badly bruised in a hospital bed, trying desperately to remember why she's there. She hears the whispers of the police outside her door. With a racing heart, Nora clutches the sheets in her sweaty, trembling hands. They think she's committed murder.

Lenora (some call her Lee, others Nora) is a reclusive crime writer who is quite content living alone. When the email arrives inviting her to attend the hen party for Clare Cavendish, she is taken aback. It's been ten years since she's seen Clare, her former best friend. Ten years in which she's been able to exist without anyone knowing about her secret. But now she's faced with a huge decision; regretfully decline or graciously accept the opportunity to celebrate the upcoming wedding of her once dear friend. She says yes. A weekend of horror is about to begin.

Flo is the effervescent hostess who welcomes five guests into her aunt's home, known as the Glass House. A massive structure of steel and glass, the home seems to beckon anyone fearless enough to enter, if they dare. Uneasy and intimidated, Nora and friend Nina, regret their decision as soon as they walk through the front door. From the beginning, there is an eerie feeling of bad things to come in the days ahead. The strange noises in the night, mysterious footprints in the snow, unexplained ouija board predictions, and an overall unsettling fear that something catastrophic is going to happen. Each guest anxious to leave. But it's not that easy leaving the Glass House as they are all about to learn. The hours tick by, until an explosive event takes place that no one could have imagined. Putting aside grief and terror, Nora must unveil who is plotting to make her look like a calculated murderer.

British writer Ruth Ware shines in her debut novel. Like Agatha Christie, Ware gives the reader all the elements for a great mystery, told with a modern day twist. The hen party (better known here as bachelorette) is an ideal setting to bring together a motley crew of characters harboring petty past grievances. Then add a bizarre house of glass in  the remote English countryside on a snowy, dreary weekend and you have the elements for a great whodunit. Parts are predictable, but the reader will enjoy being a detective and unraveling the puzzle. The author's distinctive descriptive passages add to the overall spookiness of the book; a wise choice as Halloween approaches. You might even hear your own strange noises in the night.

Actress Reese Witherspoon plans to develop Ware's book into a movie. Much like Gone Girl and
The Girl on the Train, It will be interesting to see how another compelling story translates onto the screen.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Mrs.Sinclair's Suitcase

Mrs. Sinclair's Suitcase by Louise Walters

The suitcase is small, brown in color, with a muted tartan lining. Mrs. Dorothy Sinclair proudly writes her name with a flourish on the label inside, bursting with joy, knowing this little satchel will be filled with all the things her precious baby will ever need. World War II may be raging in England, but her thoughts are only happy ones as she awaits the birth of her son.

Roberta works diligently at her favorite place, the Old and New Bookshop.  Lost in her literary world, she loves to collect the little hidden treasures that seem to appear when she opens a used book; postcards and notes written on paper-thin stationery, yellowed with age, revealing secrets, musings, and tidbits never meant for her eyes. She is lonely and unable to admit her true feelings for her boss, Philip, knowing he is in love with another. This quaint shop where the"books are alive" is her refuge.

One fateful day, Roberta's father brings to her an an old suitcase that belongs to her 109-year-old grandmother, Dorothea Pietrykowski. In it, she finds an intriguing letter dated from 1941 written by Jan Pietrykowski, the grandfather she never knew. The letter chastises her grandmother for making a horrible decision that will haunt her the rest of her life, bringing pain and sorrow to a nameless young woman and her child. "Your soul shall not return from this that you do."  If only she could ask Dorothea or her father about this mysterious correspondence in a suitcase that bears the name of a Mrs. D. Sinclair. But her father is in failing health, and Roberta doesn't want to upset her grandmother who drifts in and out of the past and the present. Perhaps it's best to accept the fact that some memories are not meant to be revisited.

This is a mellow, satisfying, and beautiful story of two exceptional women at two different times, eighty years apart. The stories run alongside one another, and mesh in a truly extraordinary way.  In her debut novel, Louise Walters paints a vivid picture of life in the 1940s. Warplanes flew over peaceful farmland while people below, like Dorothea, struggled to maintain a normal life. Years later, a young, restless woman also struggles to find a purpose in her life, never realizing that the answers may lie in a battered suitcase from long ago.

A rich story of lost and reclaimed love, irreversible decisions, and what might have been.....

Friday, September 11, 2015

Black-Eyed Susans

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Yellow, orange, and gold wildflowers blanket the open fields, swaying in the summer breeze, their "black eyes" winking at you as you pass by. A lovely sight to see...

Unless you know that hidden below their beauty, are the graves of innocent girls.

Twenty years ago Tessa Cartwright survived a nightmare. Her body was dumped in a deep hole with those of two other girls who weren't so lucky. Wildflowers bloomed over the bodies until Tessa was miraculously discovered. The victims will be forever be known as the "Black-Eyed Susans". Her testimony helped to send the alleged killer to Death Row.

But now she knows the wrong man was sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. The real killer is free, taunting her with disturbing clues, daring her to guess his identity. When she finds these trademark flowers planted outside her bedroom window in the middle of winter, she realizes that this cruel guessing game is real. Tessa fears for her safety and that of her teenaged daughter, Charlie. Slowly and methodically, she begins to work with the innocent man's legal team and a forensic doctor to chip away at suppressed memories that may reveal the true killer's identity. What they don't know is that Tessa fears for her own sanity.The "Black-Eyed Susans" speak to her, encouraging her to keep reaching for the facts, even though the pain of the past is best left untouched. She begins to put names with decomposing faces. Tessa can't stop when she's come so far, even though the shocking truth is hard to accept.

The author weaves a somewhat complicated yet fascinating story about the power of the mind. The alternating chapters between the present and the year 1995 reveal the traumatic memories that a young girl repressed in order to survive. Even more revealing is the healing that comes from allowing those agonizing memories to surface to free the innocent. Not only is this a suspense thriller, it's also a timely reminder about the scientific gains made in the study of crime today.  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Best Boy

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

Meet Todd Aaron. An autistic, contented man in his fifties who loves to read The Encyclopedia Britannica (Mr. B) and research interesting facts on the computer (Mr. C).  At the Payton LivingCenter, he's one of the veteran residents. Todd has called this place home since he was eleven-years-old. He's been happy with the quiet seclusion Payton offers, but now he feels a restlessness deep inside his soul. After all these years, he wants to go home.

Home, however, only exists in his memories. And some of those memories are painful. Like the beatings and humiliation he endured as a child at the hands of a father who could not accept a son that was "different". Or a brother who enjoyed tormenting him in front of friends for a cheap laugh. But then he thinks of Momma and Todd's heart swells with love. His mother was special, a crusader for her precious son diagnosed with this mystery affliction called autism. Now that both of his parents are gone, Todd desperately hopes his brother, Nate, will finally agree to reunite with him. But Nate carries a resentment and a secret that make Todd's dream unlikely to come true.

As the story progresses, Todd's world begins to trigger anxiety. There's the taunting brain-injured roommate who loves to watch the "volts" in Todd's brain explode.  A new man on staff with wicked intentions pretends to be a friend; how it reminds him of his vile father. A pretty girl with one eye teases Todd with romantic overtures, convincing him to stop taking his medication in order to feel normal once again. If only he could go home to that place of tranquility and peace. So he plans his escape.

Eli Gottlieb has written an emotional, insightful story examining the fascinating mind of a high-functioning autistic man. Written in the first-person narrative, the reader soon becomes empathetic towards Todd and his struggle to survive in a world he often doesn't understand. By the end, I think you'll agree that this courageous man deserves admiration rather than pity.

As Momma said, "You were a best boy who became a beautiful man and made everybody who knew you very proud".

Friday, August 21, 2015

Who Do You Love

Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner

This is the love story of Rachel and Andy. So pure and simple from the start, but like all love stories, the journey to happiness is not an easy one. You'll find yourself rooting for these two flawed characters, wishing they could go back to the days of innocence, knowing that the obstacles they face may never lead to happily ever after.

They meet in the emergency room of a hospital, both just eight-years-old and in need of a friend. Rachel's congenital heart defect defines
her life; the endless surgeries, the constant fretting and over protectiveness of her devoted mother, the restrictions involving physical activity, and the ever-present pink, jagged scar running down the center of her chest. Andy is a lonely, often angry child, not knowing where he belongs. Being biracial and never meeting his father has already jaded his view of the world. This particular night, he's waiting for a doctor to set his broken arm, a result of a careless unsupervised walk on a railing, while his mother partied with friends. The connection between Rachel and Andy on this fateful night is apparent from the beginning. Little do they know it's the start of a romance that will be tested over time.

Over the course of many years, Rachel and Andy will meet again and again. And over the years, their differences become quite apparent. Rachel's doting and indulgent parents enjoy treating her like the"Jewish Princess" that she is. In comparison, Andy's poor upbringing, hand-me-down clothes, and meager surroundings make him feel resentful and unworthy of her affection. Eventually, as they go their separate ways, hard work pays off for both of them. Andy's superb running skills take him to The Olympics, and Rachel's promising career in social work becomes a reality. However, with success, comes scandal and infidelity. Thoughts always return to that first chance meeting years ago.

In typical fashion, Jennifer Weiner uses her skill as a writer to engage the reader in a compelling  and emotional story that offers an astute insight into the perils of falling in love. Much like her All Fall Down  (reviewed August 2014) this novel appeals to the hope in all of  us that we can survive even in the darkest of times.

Only in the end will you find out if Rachel and Andy's fairy tale comes true.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Day by Day

Day by Day
The Chronicles of a Hard of Hearing Reporter
by Elizabeth (Liz) Thompson

Author Liz Thompson knows what it's like to face adversity. She's lived with severe hearing loss since childhood. This deeply personal narrative, told with grace and dignity, is undoubtedly a triumphant story. Her journey was not easy, the obstacles many, and the struggles real. This is her diary of success.

Liz Thompson is currently a columnist featured periodically in the This Week suburban newspapers distributed throughout the Columbus, Ohio Metropolitan area.  Her career as a writer has spanned many years and taken her countless places across the United States. She and her husband are pleased to call Ohio home once again. The numerous articles she has written over time (and letters written to her by grateful readers) actually motivated her to write this book published in 2008. These pieces are liberally interspersed throughout the book, offering an enlightening insight into the world of those who live each and every day with hearing loss. They reveal the struggles and challenges she faced along the way. The reader has the opportunity to gain valuable knowledge about the deaf community, about the art of communication, and how all individuals deserve acceptance and respect.

Liz describes the isolation and loneliness often associated with hearing loss ; the elementary-school teacher, who turned her back on the class making lip-reading impossible, the impatience of others when she couldn't respond to a comment or question, and the lack of self-confidence when tackling a new job. Her love of music and singing began to slip away as her hearing deteriorated, leaving a major void in her life. The added diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis at age thirty-six would be the final "straw" for many people, a reason to stop trying. But as Liz reiterates over and over in her book, life is about attitude. And that positive attitude is quite evident if you look at her life today.

Liz found true love with her second husband, she's the proud grandmother of three, and is a successful writer.  She received a cochlear implant on April 22, 2002, opening up a world that others take for granted. Her words of encouragement have buoyed the spirits of so many of her readers and given hope to those who may experience despair. As Liz says, "separate the word dis-ability and put special in front and you have special ability". Wise words that put a whole new perspective on living and functioning with a "disability".

As an individual working in the field of education, I have seen first-hand the progress made in our schools and society. Watching a child with a cochlear implant interact with peers is extremely gratifying. Seeing that same child accepted and embraced by friends is hard to describe.  People like Liz Thompson paved the way for those facing challenges today. Very few of us have picture-perfect lives. Liz chooses to live hers with courage and faith; a fine example for all of us to follow and teach our children.

I encourage readers to take the time to read this book. You will learn interesting facts about the background and history behind the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, and the complexity in learning American Sign Language. You will also marvel at one woman's success against all odds. A true inspiration about living life to the fullest, regardless of limitations.


Friday, August 7, 2015

The Night Sister

The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon

Alfred Hitchcock was known as the "master of suspense". He had the uncanny ability to put movie goers on the "edge of their seats" in so many of his acclaimed films.

References to Hitchcock are throughout Jennifer McMahon's latest novel; a riveting, eerie tale flavored with fantasy. Much like her popular The Winter People (reviewed March, 2014) she writes about the paranormal, leaving the reader with unanswered questions.

The year is 2013. Policeman Jason Hawke is summoned to the Tower Motel to investigate a grizzly murder scene. A difficult job under any circumstances, but even more so tonight. He stares down at the long blond hair covered in a massive pool of sticky blood. Even with her face turned away from him, he knows it's Amy, his childhood friend. Now she is an accused murderer. A rifle lies next to her body. A scrawled piece of paper with the words "29 rooms" flutters on the floor. A clue from the dead? Upstairs, he finds the bodies of her husband and son. Then Jason hears a soft whimper outside the bedroom window on the roof. The mirror image of Amy huddles against the chimney, soft moonlight shining on frightened eyes. Miraculously, Amy's daughter has somehow survived.

The Tower Motel was once a successful tourist spot in rural London,Vermont in the 1950s. Now it's a crumbling mass of broken windows, rotting boards, and overgrown weeds. As children in the 1980s, Amy, her friend, Piper, and Piper's little sister, Margot, used to spend their summers exploring the abandoned grounds and solving mysteries like the disappearance of Amy's Aunt Sylvie. She was an aspiring actress who told her family she was leaving for the lights and fame of Hollywood. She was never heard from again  When the girls unearth her packed suitcase, they realize Sylvie may never have left at all. After another appalling discovery, Amy decides to break all ties with her friends. They must never reveal to anyone what they know.

Until today, twenty-five years later, when Margot tells Piper Amy is dead.  Childhood  memories return.....

Like a good old-fashioned horror movie, this is one of those books best read with the lights on. Outlandish, ghoulish, and scary, it's a page turner in every sense of the word. Pay attention to the span of years, as it changes from chapter to chapter. I found myself reading passages over again to establish the relationship between characters. From there, it was hard to put down...

Sometimes "it's easier to pretend the things that frighten us the most don't exist at all".

Friday, July 31, 2015

Pretty Baby

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica

A sincere act of kindness goes terribly, terribly wrong......

Chris Wood calls his wife a bleeding heart; "Every neglected, mistreated, overlooked, ignored, abandoned, forgotten, emaciated, abused, derelict creature on God's earth is Heidi's concern". This time, however, she's gone too far...this time she's put her family in grave danger.

Relentless, pounding rain drenches the young teenage girl and the tiny baby cradled in her arms. As Heidi waits for the train at Fullerton Station in Chicago, her eyes are drawn to the girl's thin, bony frame, sallow skin, and vacant expression. Commuters intent on getting home, eye the pair with pity and disgust. But not Heidi. She decides to extend a helping hand, not realizing what's about to enfold.

Chris and self-centered daughter, Zoe, are angry and perplexed to see a homeless, bedraggled teenager and infant taking up residence in their home. Heidi becomes increasingly obsessed with this girl named Willow and baby Ruby. What is supposed to be a  temporary situation, drags on and on. Chris begins to have serious misgivings about this stranger who has invaded their lives. Without Heidi's  knowledge, he begins an investigation of his own. Constant travels related to his job keep him unaware of how bizarre the attachment between his wife and these outsiders has become. When he finally realizes the extent of their involvement, it may be too late to salvage the life they've created.

Kubica presents the reader with three narrators, Chris, Willow, and Heidi, each one telling a part of the story from their own perspective. Even though it may seem complicated, the timelines and characters are easy to follow. After the success of the author's first novel ( The Good Girl, reviewed in July 2014) Mary Kubica is a name that suspense lovers will remember. A graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, she  makes the Buckeye State proud.

A guaranteed pulse-pounding thriller that hooks you from page one with unexpected plot twists and a surprising ending .

Friday, July 17, 2015

Eight Hundred Grapes

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

"You have to grow about eight hundred grapes to get just one bottle of wine. If that isn't an argument to finish the bottle, I don't know what  is."

Wearing a tattered and torn wedding dress, Georgia Ford walks into The Brothers' Tavern, sits down at the bar, and stares at the two choices set in front of her; a shot of bourbon or a glass of smooth, fruity Pinot Noir. She chooses the wine. Her whole life has always centered around her father's award-winning wines and vineyard, so the choice comes naturally. She willingly left that life years ago. Now, despondent and confused, she's back where it all started. Coming home to her childhood roots means she can count on her family to offer guidance and support. However, Georgia soon discovers  that assumption couldn't be farther from the truth.

It's harvest week at The Last Straw Vineyard. A flurry of traditional events are scheduled, not the least of which is Georgia's wedding to Ben. No one knows that the bride recently uncovered a catastrophic secret that the love of her life has been conveniently hiding. That secret is named Maddie, his adorable five-year-old daughter with a stunning Hollywood actress. And he's known about the child for far longer than he cares to admit. The couple's anticipated move to London with Ben's ready-made family nearby, now seems premature and risky. Georgia retreats to the arms of her parents, hoping to find comfort and guidance while she makes life-altering decisions. Much to her dismay, what she envisions at home isn't reality anymore. Her mother is involved with another man, her father is selling the treasured  family vineyard, and her brothers are at odds with one another over a woman they both love. Georgia's once idyllic life is now a messy conglomeration of problems.

From the author of The First Husband and The Divorce Party (both highly recommended) this is an entertaining look at the power and strength of family bonds, the acceptance of harsh truths, and the realization that following our hearts may be the recipe for happiness. Laura Dave writes with honesty and humor which make her books so appealing.

So grab a Chardonnay, Merlot, or whatever suits your mood, and get ready to enjoy a visit to Sonoma County. In addition to a delightful story, you'll learn a great deal about the fascinating process that goes into making each and every mellow, satisfying bottle of wine.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Those Girls

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens

As Jess and Dani watch in horror, their drunken, glassy-eyed father attempts to drown their sister Courtney. They listen to his malicious, cruel comments, see his lips curl into a leering smirk on his distorted face. He doesn't realize that the years of abuse and abandonment on his part are about to end. At her breaking point, fourteen-year-old Jess feels the cool metal of the rifle in her hands as she pulls the trigger.

In an instant, she murders "Dad".

The three sisters bury their father's body in a pig pen reeking of foul waste and debris. They hide crucial evidence, then begin a journey on the run to Vancouver where they hope to start over. They don't count on their dilapidated truck breaking down in the creepy little town of Cash Creek. Here they meet brothers Brian and Gavin, two locals from a nearby ranch who offer to help them fix the truck in exchange for a hard day's work on the land they call home. But it's all a ploy by a bully and a deviant psychopath. The boys have a sick and twisted plan for the vulnerable teens. After five days of torture, the girls mange to escape from their captors and with the help of an ex-con, finally make it to Vancouver with new identities. Then Jess learns she is pregnant with Brian's child. Determined to never reveal the truth of her daughter's conception, she and her sisters begin a new life, praying no one will ever learn of  their dirty little secrets.

The second half of the story begins eighteen years later, narrated by Skylar, the daughter Jamie (Jess) vows to protect at all costs. The young woman's curiosity about her family's past takes a perilous turn when Crystal (Courtney) decides to avenge the unthinkable deeds of two evil men she and her sisters foolishly trusted years ago. Crystal sets off for Cash Creek with Skylar not far behind. They find themselves in dangerous territory when Brian and Gavin recognize Crystal as one of  "those girls" they victimized years ago. Older, but still callous and ruthless, the men swear to make them disappear once and for all.

Intense, brutal, and graphic, readers will cringe at many of the descriptive passages in this novel, while feeling the gripping fear endured by the characters.  It's a story of ultimate survival, mind over matter, and being "so scared that if I stopped being angry, there'd be nothing left of me".

Another winner from the master of suspense, author Chevy Stevens.


Friday, June 26, 2015

The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers by Davis McCullough

They wanted to fly. This is a stirring account of how two determined brothers from Dayton, Ohio succeeded in their quest to do what so many regarded as unrealistic and foolish. In spite of their awe-inspiring accomplishments, the Wright brothers remained humble and unassuming, an inspiration to the common man that perseverance and dedication to a cause prevails over adversity.

"For all they had seen and done, the unprecedented glory bestowed on them, it had by all signs neither changed them nor turned their heads in the least. There was no boasting, no preening, no getting too big for their britches, as said, and it was this, almost as much as their phenomenal achievements, that was so greatly admired. As one writer on the scene put it, "They are the imperturbable 'men from home' as always".

And until the end, that home was Dayton, Ohio.

This Pulitzer-Prize author's research is incredibly extensive starting with the "boys" humble beginnings to their historic experimental flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. They were relentless in the pursuit of a dream, knowing that each attempt to soar like the birds they envied,  put their lives in danger. The moving personal diaries and documented Wright Papers give the reader a true look into the minds and lives of these pioneers.

However, the truly inspiring part of this book is the author's insight into the personal lives of these two humble men. They didn't have indoor plumbing growing up, they didn't travel in the "right" social circles, they didn't worry about being recognized to enhance swollen egos. What they did have was a devoted mother who died too young, and a preacher father who surrounded his sons with books that encouraged his children reach for heights others would never even considered. The reader learns how much sister Katherine influenced them in their journey to success, while remaining in the shadows. An Oberlin (Ohio) graduate, she too excelled in her dreams of excellence and offered encouragement every step of the way.

On March 12, 1906, Wilbur and Orville Wright wrote, "The best dividends on the labor invested have invariably come from seeking more knowledge rather than more power".

This book is a testament to those words.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Summer's End

The Summer's End by Mary Alice Monroe

Summer is here. Sunny days are sure to follow this wave of endless rain, so relax and enjoy some delicious beach reads. Written by the queens of this genre, they're guaranteed to take you'll savor these new releases rain or shine.

Mary Alice Monroe concludes her trilogy about the story of three half-sisters reconnecting with one another under the guidance of their beloved and very wise grandmother, "Mamaw".

This final chapter centers on Harper, the youngest granddaughter from New York. Independent, feisty, and beautiful, she longs to escape from the endless criticism of her intimidating mother. The family estate on Sullivan's Island known as Sea Breeze, offers her the opportunity to discover her true identity and talents. When Mawaw announces she is selling the property, Harper and her siblings must face the harsh reality that they may no longer have a place to call home. Together, with the help of a handsome Marine, sisters bond to define what it means to be a family.

Monroe fans will not be disappointed as she brings this story to a close. I suggest starting with The Summer Girls (beach read, June, 2013 on my blog), followed by the second book The Summer Wind in order to meet the array of personalities involved.  The Lowcountry of  South Carolina with  its white sand and swaying palmetto trees is a perfect setting for this rich and fulfilling trilogy about characters you'll come to know as friends. Hard to say goodbye to them.      


The Rumor

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

Gossip is the norm on the tiny island of Nantucket. When it spirals out of control, there's nothing left to do but pick up the pieces.

Grace and "Fast Eddie" Panick's home and gardens are a showcase. Everyone admires and envies exquisite perfection. Grace, along with her incredibly handsome landscape architect, Benton Coe, have created an outdoor masterpiece. But people say Benton is doing a whole lot more than pruning rosebushes.....

Eddie is trying to save his crumbling real estate business. Unbeknownst to Grace, he's resorted to some very unsavory tactics....

Allegra and Hope are their identical twin daughters. That's where the similarities end.  Allegra is popular,wild and reckless. Hope is quiet, and refined. When Allegra's behavior borders on the dangerous, Hope has no choice but to watch her sister self-destruct.

Madeline Llewellyn is Grace's best friend. She is a successful writer, feeling the pressure to crank out another hit. When her writer's block seems to have no end, she panics, knowing that financially the family is in trouble. So she pressures Eddie to return the $50,000 she and her husband invested with him for a big profit that never materialized. When Eddie is seen visiting Madeline,.....people say these two obviously must be having a clandestine relationship. In the meantime, Madeline hears about a torrid adulterous affair between her best friend and a hunky landscaper, the perfect plot for her next bestseller. She can't betray a friend. Or can she?

Rumors, rumors, rumors. It's amazing how quickly they can spread, creating havoc on this little stretch of an island four miles wide by thirteen miles long. Hildebrand is at her best with this one, creating vulnerable characters who gossip about one another with ease, never stopping to think about the ramifications.

A beach read worthy of the accolades.

Beach Town

Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews

Check this one out for lazy days by the pool...

Greer Hennessy is cautiously optimistic that the tranquil little town of Cypress Key, Florida, is exactly what hot shot movie director Bryce Levy has in mind for his next big-budget film. She's counting on it. Her career as a movie location scout hinges on finding the  perfect spot for his supposedly blockbuster hit. Nothing can get in her way. But then she wasn't counting on meeting Eben Thibadeaux.....

Eb Thibadeaux is the mayor of Cypress Key, the once thriving home of a now defunct paper plant. He's also the city engineer, the co-owner of a motel, proprietor of a grocery store and operator of a boat repair shop. In other words, he does it all. As a native of this small town, Eb is intent on preserving the richness and heritage of his community. That includes the old rambling casino that Bryce and Greer want to demolish in an instant with a single blast. It seems Eb and Greer are constantly at odds with one another, which makes it even harder to ignore the mutual attraction.

When you take this basic premise and add in a litany of  interesting characters, another Mary Kay Andrews novel comes to life. Greer has to deal with movie star egos, a scheming former socialite, adoring fans, and a volatile teenager. When her estranged father reaches out to her to  give him a second chance, she has some tough decisions to make about life and love.

A playful romantic story  to stow in your bag for vacation days.


Saturday, June 6, 2015

Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Seventy-year-old Addie Moore invites Louis Waters to her home. For companionship. Nothing more....

Louis is surprised and puzzled by Addie's proposition, yet willing to give it a try.  This widow and widower have known each other for years in the small town of Holt, Colorado and find that loneliness is just one of the things they have in common. The idea is out of the ordinary, but appealing. Spending days and nights with a lovely woman whom he's always admired from afar, might be just what he needs. An unconventional love story begins with friendship and ends with a longing for what might have been.

As their relationship progresses, old wounds surface. Addie and Louis begin to talk openly about their past, their shattered dreams, their indiscretions, and failures as parents. Petty gossip about their relationship fills the air. They don't care. What they do care about is Addie's grandson, Jamie, who comes to stay for the summer after his mother and father separate. Together, they begin a journey to find happiness and contentment in the little things in life. A shy, introverted child blossoms, spending time with two people who are willing to give him the gift of time and share all the wisdom they've learned  from getting old.

If you are a fan of Kent Haruf, you'll recognize the fictional town of Holt. It's the setting for his previous novels. If you're reading this accomplished author for the first time, welcome to his world. Haruf died in November of 2014, leaving readers with one last opportunity to enjoy his unique writing and moving portrait of a couple finding the courage to live life to the fullest, even in their twilight years.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Every Fifteen Minutes

Every Fifteen Minutes by Lisa Scottoline

A cunning, conniving sociopath is out to destroy the life of Dr. Eric Parrish, Chief of Psychiatry at Havemeyer General Hospital. It will take time, but all carefully planned scenarios do. Slowly and methodically, the esteemed Dr. Parrish will lose everything dear to him. The individual responsible will feel no remorse, basking in the glory of it all.

Eric has a lot on his mind these days at home and on the job. With his marriage in shambles, he worries about being a single parent to seven-year-old daughter, Hannah. He worries about every patient at the psychiatric treatment facility, too, especially a troubled adolescent boy. The young suicidal man confides deep secrets to Eric; secrets that involve a fixation on an innocent girl. As a physician, Eric struggles to maintain confidentiality while preventing harm to someone he barely knows.

One act of terror suddenly makes the good doctor an active participant in a game he never agreed to play. It's a game with potentially deadly consequences. Slowly he begins to realize that his opponent is dangerous and calculating with only one goal in mind; to ruin his life.

The author's novels always reflect her knowledge as a former practicing attorney. This time she has done extensive research in the complex field of psychiatry. The devious mind of a sociopath is described with chilling accuracy. This is not only a gripping thriller, but also a look into the human psyche. The plot is tangled and intricate, leaving the reader unsettled, chapter after chapter, until the very end.

And what an ending it is.


Friday, May 15, 2015

Before I Go

Before I Go by Colleen Oakley

"Dr. Saunders' eyes are the color of sad."  He explains to twenty-seven-year-old patient Daisy Richmond that her cancer has returned with a vengeance. A numbness sets in as she stares at her latest PET scan. "It looks as though it's on fire". She leaves with a diagnosis of six months to live.

The hardest part of knowing that you're going to die is deciding how to live with the time remaining. As Daisy deals with her anger, denial, and depression, she struggles with a way to tell the news to those she loves. Her mother's tears flow incessantly. Best friend Kayleigh takes the news in her usual offbeat manner, when inside her heart is breaking. But it's husband Jack that Daisy worries about most of all. How will he live without her? He is a brilliant veterinary student working on his PhD, but can't seem to remember where he put his keys or when it's time to wash his socks. Daisy realizes that when she's gone he will need someone to take care of him. So in between the endless medical appointments and panic attacks, she sets in motion a plan to find a perfect mate for the man she loves.

The subject of this novel immediately evokes feelings of deep and profound sorrow. However, this first-time author manages to deal with her character's fate with grace and humor. It's the humor that makes the reader laugh even when the passages describe in detail the distressing outcome. As Daisy trudges on with her mission to find the ideal woman for Jack, she realizes that it's easier said than done to let go. Through the pain and misery, there's hope and joy.

A witty, feel-good book that will make you smile through the tears.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

At the Water's Edge

At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

Let's talk about the end rather than the beginning of this novel set during World War II. The author of Water for Elephants shows her penchant for simply telling a good story, leaving the reader feeling happy and content as the tale comes to a conclusion. Simplistic and predictable? Perhaps, but Gruen fans will welcome her ability to take them on yet another journey with memorable characters and a compelling plot.

Madeline Hyde lives the life of leisure in Philadelphia, blissfully unaware (or so she pretends) of the raging war across the ocean. When her rogue, hard-drinking husband, Ellis, fails to meet the requirements to join the service, he proposes they travel to Scotland to verify the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. Maddie finds the whole idea absurd. Her attempts to change his mind are unsuccessful. The married couple embark on a whirlwind adventure to the Scottish Highlands accompanied by friend, Hank, who shares the same fervent desire to prove the Monster exists.

Once they reach the dilapidated lodge in the Scottish Highlands, the story begins, centering on Angus, a sullen, mysterious man who owns the inn. All three are actually frightened by him. With Ellis and Hank gone much of the time in search of answers to their quest, Maddie finds herself alone with Angus and the hard-working everyday people who toil daily at the inn. Her perception of life begins to change. She is forced to look at her disturbing childhood and the reality of her disintegrating marriage. When Ellis becomes cruel and offensive with his addiction to alcohol, Maddie vows to start over without him.  He has become the real Monster.

With historical accuracy, the author describes the horror of a devastating World War. As warplanes fly overhead and Hitler's atrocities come to light, a young, privileged woman experiences her own awakening. It's as much a story of romance, hope, and renewal as it is a period piece; one you'll enjoy reading until the happy ending.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Where They Found Her

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

News of the newborn baby's discarded remains by the  Essex Bridge spreads quickly in this affluent university town of Ridgedale, New Jersey. Unfathomable that a child could be tossed away like a piece of trash. Everybody has an opinion. Yet questions remain. Who is responsible?

Molly Sanderson finds herself in an enviable position. The editor of the local paper, the Ridgedale Reader, wants her to cover the breaking news of the infant's sordid death. Up until recently, she's only handled light and fluffy columns. Now she has a chance to sink her teeth into big news, even over the objections of her husband, Justin, a university professor. He feels the story of a deceased child hits too close to home. Months earlier, Molly lost a daughter in the late stages of pregnancy. After intense therapy, Molly has made great strides, but still feels she was somehow responsible for the stillborn death of her child. How she ached to give daughter Ella a sibling. It wasn't meant to be.

Molly begins her investigation. At first treading softly, she soon becomes absorbed in the case, realizing that there there is a trail of deceit related to this baby's untimely death. The deception goes back years ago to another death of a popular high-school star athlete near the Essex Bridge.  Molly begins to delve into the past. No longer can anyone stop the lies and cover-ups. It's too late. The upstanding citizens of Ridgedale are about to be exposed, and everyone is going to pay the price.

Three different narrators tell this story of pain and tragedy. How can they possibly know how much they have in common?  Bold, raw, and dark,  author Kimberly McCreight's second novel explores the profound repercussions of betrayal, but not without a glimmer of hope.

"Not everything about where you're going has to be about where you've been".


Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Stranger

The Stranger by Harlan Coben

The stranger whispers in his ear. "She lied, Adam. Corrine was never pregnant. She made it all up." Chilling, unsettling words from an unknown man with a face that somehow conveys credibility, like he was doing you a big favor. And Adam believes him.

Life in suburbia is pretty much the same in every small town in America. Today is no different in Cedarfield, New Jersey. Adam Price joins his buddies to finalize the draft for his son's sixth-grade all-star lacrosse team. Typical politics permeate the selections as to who makes the cut. The good news is that his son Ryan is on the A team. But none of that matters at the moment because Adam Price is reeling from a few shocking words spoken in haste. As he runs to the parking lot to follow the stranger, he sees a woman with long blonde hair behind the wheel of the "getaway" car. It's time to confront his wife, Corrine.

Corrine's reaction to Adam's questions is troubling. Rather than deny the stranger's allegations, she asks for time to explain. Adam reluctantly agrees, only to find after much probing, that her behavior in the past few weeks is totally out of character. She is no longer showing up to teach at the local high school, and her friends admit that her recent patterns have been perplexing. Then Corrine disappears, simply sending a text pleading for Adam to take care of the kids. A picture-perfect life is shattered.

Once again, this author manages to take the reader on a thrilling ride. Adam is just one of many characters touched by the stranger's words, a mysterious individual intent on righting wrongs. What appears on the surface to be a story of marital disharmony, turns out to be so much more. Complex and intriguing, it's a tale where computer hacking meets the wealth, secrets, and lies of suburbia. The results are explosive.

Harlan Coben at his best.    

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Someone Is Watching

Someone Is Watching by Joy Fielding

"I hear the sound of twigs snapping behind me......I taste the gloved hand that covers my mouth....and feel the flurry of fists at my stomach and face, overpowering my resistance and bringing me to the brink of unconsciousness."

Private eye Bailey Carpenter knows the meaning of fear. Ever since her brutal attack, she finds herself unable to function. Instead, she hides behind closed doors knowing that the ghoulish nightmares will awaken her again just like they do every night. Still reeling from her parents' deaths, Bailey is a woman living on the edge. And she can't shake the feeling that someone is watching her every move.

Before her attack, Bailey's life was complicated but manageable. Now it's become overwhelming. Along with her playboy brother, Bailey is independently wealthy, the heirs to their father's fortune. But five half-brothers and sisters are not rich and they've vowed to get what rightfully belongs to them. Her sordid affair with a married man has lost its appeal. The one thing that takes her mind off of everything is the pair of binoculars her mother left to her. It's become a tawdry addiction to spy on the gentleman living in a high rise across the street. That is, until she gets the uneasy feeling he is watching her, too. Could he possibly be her attacker?

The story is now set in motion as Bailey must overcome her fragile state of mind to uncover the truth behind the jumbled pieces of her vicious assault before he strikes again. There are so many suspects. Is there anyone she can trust? Before she loses her sanity, she must find the answers.

Joy Fielding writes a raw heart-pounding thriller. It's a constant guessing game with red herrings galore that will keep the reader thoroughly glued to each and every page. Bailey Carpenter will return in another Fielding novel, and she's a character I look forward to meeting again.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Life I Left Behind

The Life I Left Behind by Colette McBeth

On the heels of her first successful novel,  Precious Thing, author Colette McBeth, writes another thriller guaranteed to keep you on the edge.

Follow along.......

Melody Pieterson came so close to death six years ago. Her limp, discolored body was found discarded in a local park. In her hand, she was clutching a delicate caged bird on a gold chain. She has no recollection of the attack. Melody survived, but now lives a secluded life removed from society with her overly attentive fiance. Even though her neighbor, David Alden, was arrested for her attempted murder, she lives in fear, now that he has been released from prison. And she is beginning to have nagging doubts about that day as her memory returns in bits and pieces.

Eve Elliott  is a reporter from a cancelled investigative crime show. Her friend, Annie, is David's sister. Reluctantly, at Annie's request, Eve begins to look into David's story that he is innocent of  Melody's attack. Slowly, Eve begins to believe that he's telling the truth. Maybe he didn't have enough time to commit the crime, maybe he wasn't the jealous jilted neighbor like the police portrayed. Maybe someone else with a secret motive to kill Melody is still out there. Maybe David Alden is innocent.

Then Eve is murdered before she can present her suspicions to the police. The crime scene looks all too familiar. She is found clutching a delicate caged bird on a gold chain.

David Alden is arrested again, this time for Eve's murder. The news of Eve's death triggers apprehension in Melody. She comes precariously close to slipping over the edge. If David is not the predator, then who in her immediate circle is? Was Eve too close to uncovering the truth about someone who is purposefully misleading the police?

This novel is cleverly written, full of surprises and twists and turns. The chapters alternate between Melody's voice and the voice of the deceased Eve who has all the answers. She'll give you many clues from her grave but you, the reader, will have to figure it out all by yourself.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Crazy Love You

Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger

Haunting, spooky, addictive. Fans of author Lisa Unger unite for another bone-chilling macabre story written in her inimitable style. Much like In the Blood, (which I reviewed in January of 2014), this gripping novel is unpredictable and mesmerizing with different interpretations.

Ian Paine is a successful writer and illustrator of a graphic series of novels called Fatboy and Priss, based on his own pathetic life. It's been a long, grueling journey to reach this level of notoriety. Unfortunately for him, it's impossible to escape the past.....

Ian's life begins in The Hollows about 100 miles outside of New York City, a burg where everyone knows everybody else's business.....and more. He is a miserable child, overweight, acne-scarred, and longing for friendship in a town that shuns him. One night when his mentally ill mother "accidentally" smothers his baby sister, he flees into the woods behind his home, fearing he will be her next victim. There he meets Priss, a wild, untamed red-haired girl who soon becomes his closet friend. Her friendship, however is all-consuming, and soon turns ugly. Ian finds himself unable or unwilling to escape from the spell she casts upon him. And it's only just beginning....

Ian is now in Manhattan writing what he knows about best and joyfully in love with Megan. Priss, however, is always there, too, hiding in the shadows. Ian is never quite sure where she will appear. When his editor announces that it is time to bring the series to an end, Priss refuses to exit gracefully. What follows is a bizarre chain of events that will push Ian over the edge, making him question his own sanity.

Not everyone will like this book. It is a dark, brooding story that defies description. Yet it's a book you'll want to finish. Ask yourself this question at the end. Is Priss real or just the figment of a mentally disturbed young man? Does Ian possess surreal unearthly powers or is he simply crazy?

I'll let you decide.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Circle of Wives

A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante

Let's dip into the archives for this suspenseful thriller published in March of 2014.....Written by the same author of  Turn of Mind, this twisted tale of murder and deceit is a good choice for a cold winter night by the fire.

Dr. John Taylor is dead, a victim of a lethal dose of potassium injected by an unknown killer. The list of suspects is long and complicated, considering the fact that John was a bigamist married to three women at the same time. Quite a juggling act for the renowned plastic surgeon who devoted his life to transforming the lives of hideously scarred children. He had the power to heal.

Before his untimely death, Dr. Taylor also has the power to manipulate the women he loves. There's Deborah, his first wife of twenty-five years and mother of his three children. Poised and elegant, she loves her sprawling home and high society friends....and she's well aware of  the other "wives". MJ is the exact opposite of Deborah; an earthy free-spirit who craves the exhilarating passion that John instills in her. Helen is a driven, ambitious oncologist, perhaps the one who has the most in common with her discreet lover. Unbeknownst to him, Helen is carrying John's child, and she knows what his reaction would have been; children are not part of the equation.

It's up to Detective Samantha Adams to sift through the facts and alibis to expose the killer. To complicate matters, there's a hauntingly beautiful colleague of Dr. Taylor's who claims she was in line to become wife number four while he secretly planned to discard the other three. And what about the prominent physicians who shared his practice? They vehemently disliked John's all-consuming humanitarian efforts in a clinic where they could make vast amounts of money on vain patients' cosmetic procedures.

Author Alice LaPlante does a superb job with detail. She chronicles the lives of each suspect so the reader begins to understand the web of lies-but not until the final chapter are the startling answers revealed.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

The passage of time. "How slow it is when you're little  and how it speeds up faster once you're grown."

Once again, distinguished author Anne Tyler spins a tale of family conflict and endearing love. The book opens in 1994 with Red and Abby Whitshank lamenting a phone call from 19-year-old son Denny, the child who continues to mystify them with his wanderlust ways. Flitting from city to city, job to job, Abby agonizes over her misfit son. He's so different from their other children; domineering Amanda, Jeannie with her low self-esteem, and steady Stem, the secret pride of his father, much to Denny's chagrin.

Set in Baltimore, the story of the Whitshank family enfolds. Red is the patriarch of a successful construction company, painstakingly and lovingly built by his father, Junior. When Red suffers a heart attack and Abby has increasing episodes of "mind slips", the family must rally to the rescue of their aging parents.

A sudden death now allows the author to go back in time, tracing the origins of the Whitshank family. The story of  Red's parents, Junior and Linnie, is particularly engaging, as is the warm love affair that started as friendship between Red and Abby.

As Abby says, "We're young for such a small fraction of our lives, and yet our youth seems to stretch on forever. Then we're old for years and years, but time flies by fastest then. So it all comes out equal in the end...."  

How true. Anne Tyler writes a story of an ordinary family with extraordinary strength. Although the chapters are disjointed at times, I encourage you to continue reading if you are looking for a tender tale of four generations, written with style.

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train  by Paula Hawkins

Rachel Watson likes to pretend; pretend that she's not a raging alcoholic, that she wasn't fired from a dead-end job, that her husband still loves her when in reality he's now blissfully married and content with someone new. It's easy to pretend, especially when alcohol obliterates the pain.

Rachel continues her daily commute to a non-existent job, determined to hide the truth of her circumstances from her roommate. As the train rumbles towards London each day, she is observant of her mundane surroundings, basking in the simple pleasure of imagining what goes on behind closed doors. There's one couple in particular that catches her eye every day in the neighborhood where she used to live. She calls them "Jess and Jason". They seem to be so blatantly happy, living the life that once was hers. They must be ideal, perfect partners.

Then Rachel witnesses what she believes is an act of infidelity on the part of one of the two strangers she's been watching religiously. The news that follows this incident is troubling. "Jess" (who is actually Megan Hipwell) is missing. Rachel thinks she has valuable information for the authorities about her disappearance, which is now casting suspicion on Megan's husband, Scott. If only she could be sure of what she saw. Her memory is clouded from another drunken stupor.  Reality and fantasy collide, resulting in a series of twisted and complex events that are no longer pretend. Rachel is living a lie, so who will believe her?

Hawkins artfully meshes the past and present lives of truly distinctive characters.  You'll hear from three narrators who tell a shocking, compelling story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The references to Alfred Hitchcock's suspenseful  movie  Rear Window and Gillian Flynn's disturbing Gone Girl certainly are with merit. It's no surprise that this novel has already been optioned to become a film. Books clubs may want to add this one to their growing list for 2015.

This is an outstanding psychological thriller with a dramatic conclusion.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Dress Shop of Dreams

The Dress Shop of Dreams by Menna van Praag

It's Cora Carraway's birthday. Just an ordinary day in her regimented, unexciting life.She likes it that way. Ever since her parents died in a mysterious fire over twenty years ago, Cora chooses to live simply and uncluttered, following the same pattern day in and day out. She has followed in her illustrious parents' footsteps, working as a scientist in a sterile university lab with Dr. Baxter, a mentor she has admired for years. Today she will visit her beloved grandmother, Etta, at her tiny dress shop, a somewhat magical store filled with alluring clothes made of luxurious fabrics adorned with lace and sparkling sequins. There's something special about this place; every customer who walks through the little blue door feels empowered when they leave. It's as if they suddenly feel beautiful and self-assured. And there's something special about Etta, too......

Etta is determined that Cora finds contentment and happiness with childhood friend, Walt. She knows all too well the heartache of losing that one, true, irreplaceable love. Cora can't go down that same path. "Some people don't see the things under their noses. They mistake the everyday for what's ordinary and unimportant. They need shaking up". These are the words that Etta lives by. So with her trusty needle and thread, Etta slowly puts in motion a plan to bring these two lost souls together. However, along the way, she encounters unexpected obstacles that threaten to shatter the dream she carries in her heart for her only granddaughter.

Many memorable supporting characters intertwine with the main plot with stories of their own to add a touch of mystery and intrigue to this novel. It is a lovely, enchanting story of hope and second chances. Falling into the genre of magical realism,  this book explores the beauty in all of us. We just must open our hearts to attaining what might seem like the impossible.

Even without Etta's magic........

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Magician's Lie

The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister

The art of illusion. Magicians continue to fascinate and intrigue us with their effortless ability to do the impossible. Even the most skeptical audience can't explain the trickery right before their eyes.

This debut novel by a most talented author will hook you from the very first page. The main character isn't real, but the historical research behind the story is; I highly recommend you put this one on your list for the New Year and enter the mesmerizing world of magic.

It's the turn of the 20th century and patrons are filling venues far and wide to witness the magical talents of  The Amazing Arden. As one of the few female illusionists in the country, her fans watch this particular night as she plunges an ax into a coffin-like box, splitting a man's body in two.  Blood gushes onto the stage. Minutes later, the victim is whole again much to the delight of the audience. But later, after Arden makes her exit from the theater, the mutilated body of another man is discovered under the stage. There's only one conclusion. Arden is indeed a cunning murderess.

Virgil Holt is the local sheriff in Janesville, Iowa. By now, news has spread that the famous Arden escaped after murdering her husband during a thrilling show in Waterloo. Virgil is nursing wounds of his own; his life is on a downhill spiral. By a stroke of luck, he encounters the disheveled Arden and takes her into custody. Maybe this is his lucky break.  He can make a name for himself with her arrest.

Confined to a chair with three sets of handcuffs, Arden begs Virgil to listen to the sordid details of her life before he brings her to justice. As her story enfolds, he struggles to draw a line between fact and fiction. Should he believe her claim of innocence or is this the tale of an accomplished woman born to deceive?

Suspenseful, fast-paced, and enlightening, this novel may leave you with many unanswered questions.

Is it real or all a magician's lie?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Saving Grace

Saving Grace by Jane Green

Grace and Ted Chapman turn heads wherever they go. They are the perfect couple. He is a wildly successful novelist, she is his chic, stylish, sophisticated wife. But what happens behind closed doors would shock even their most ardent admirers. Perception is not always reality.....

When Grace meets literary giant Ted Chapman,the attraction is instantaneous. Suddenly she is in the spotlight, not only as a talented chef and assistant cookbook editor, but now  as the wife of a famous writer, living in a picturesque farmhouse in upstate New York. Only she knows the other side of Ted; his dark, brooding moods that often erupt in waves of dangerous fits of anger and uncontrolled outbursts, much like that of her own mother. It's best if no one knows the details of Grace's childhood in England, the torment of living with a mentally disturbed parent. Grace lives in fear every day that she, too, could suffer from this hideous affliction.

The bright shining light in their lives is daughter, Clemmie, a talented writer in her own right who feels a special connection to her father. And then there's Ellen, Ted's personal assistant. Beloved and indispensable, Grace panics at the thought of Ellen leaving to care for her elderly mother. The thought of replacing her is soon appeased when Beth enters their lives. Plain and unassuming, Beth's superior organizational skills are just what Grace needs to deal with Ted's volatile moods. That is until suspicious events begin to make Grace question Beth's motives. Perfect Beth may want a perfect life of her own.......

Soon Grace enters a world of  precarious uncertainty. She begins to piece together past events and suddenly realizes she must escape for her own safety before it's too late. Her only hope is to return to her homeland and the comforting arms of Lydia, her old college roommate's mother who loves her unconditionally. As the suspense builds, so does her innate fear that the life she once knew is beginning to unravel right before her eyes.

Undoubtedly, British author Jane Green personifies the term "chick lit". This novel is no exception. If you are looking for an engaging book to start the New Year, definitely add this to your list. The manifestation and effects of mental illness and paranoia are masterfully examined. True friendship, unexpected love, and listening to your heart are all topics that should make this an excellent choice for enthusiastic discussion at book clubs. As an added benefit for those of you with culinary talents, some great recipes accompany each chapter.

The list is growing for new and dynamic books being released in 2015. I'm looking forward to sharing many of them with you at The EZ Book Nook. Hope you'll join me!