Sandie Jones’ The Other Woman

Emily’s fiancé, Adam is the perfect man.  He’s strong, he’s attentive, and he’s good to his mother, Pammie.  But Pammie is a different story.  Undermining Emily at every turn she is the nightmare mother-in-law we all dread.  The only problem is that everyone else thinks that Pammie is the sweetest woman…  But if it’s not all in Emily’s head why is she the only person that can see it?

On first glance, Sandie Jones’ debut novel The Other Woman feels a bit like the JLo movie Monster in Law.  They both feature future MIL’s who lie and manipulate and genuinely make the woman feel crazy, but that’s where their similarities end.  Unlike in the movie – where Michael Vartan’s character is actually perfect – Adam is not the perfect man.  In fact, he’s not even likeable.  Every time that Emily tries to talk to him about what Pammie is doing he shuts her down, refuses to see the bad and makes Emily (and us) think that maybe it’s all really her.  So is it?

I started this book on my plane ride home from vacation and finished it two days later.  It was that good.  And the shocking end that everyone is talking about?  I never saw it coming!  It’s out in stores next week so everyone grab this one!

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The Other Woman by Sandie Jones. Minotaur Books. August 2018
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B.A. Paris’ The Breakdown

Trust is one of the most important things in life, without it, your world can be turned upside-down.  But what happens when you don’t know who to trust?  With her sophomore novel (and next one, Bring Me Back out this month!), B.A. Paris joins the ranks of S.J. Watson and A.S.A. Harrison in her story-telling abilities, begging the question: can you even trust yourself?

The Breakdown opens with a torrential storm.  Cass is taking a shortcut home through the woods, the same shortcut that her husband, Matthew, has warned her against taking.  She notices a car pulled over on the side of the road and tries to see if the driver needs help.  She comes close to getting out of her car, but thinks better of it and continues on her way home.  The next morning, Cass wakes to find that the woman in the car was murdered.  She may be the only witness, except no one knows that she was there.

And with that, B.A. Paris’ masterpiece begins.  At first we believe Cass – her recollection of the events that she keeps replaying in her head seems plausible – but soon those thoughts start to take over her life.  She becomes increasingly forgetful and paranoid that you start to question the validity of her story.  Was she even there?  Did she murder the woman?  Is she sane?  Paris weaves the threads so tightly at times that you can’t tell fact from fiction.

What I love most about this story is that moment when the pieces start to fall together – it’s then that you realize just how deep it really goes.  And that sometimes, the truth is not what you think it to be.

 

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The Breakdown, B.A. Paris 2017 St. Martin’s Press.

Chevy Stevens’ Never Let You Go

A twisty suspense novel that explores the dark side of love and obsession.

Chevy Stevens’ Never Let You Go follows Lindsey Nash who, eleven years ago took her young daughter and escaped from her abusive husband Andrew’s grasp.  That same night, Andrew is arrested on unrelated charges and sentenced to ten years in prison.  Now, Lindsey has made a new life for herself; she owns her own business and takes care of her teenage daughter, Sophie.  When Andrew is released from prison, odd things start to happen and, despite Andrew’s claim that he’s reformed, Lindsey is convinced that he is behind everything, slowly plotting his revenge.  But, is Andrew the one behind the threats, or has someone else been waiting in the wings to make their move?  Told through Lindsey and Sophie’s perspectives in the present and past, Stevens weaves a chilling tale that makes you question every relationship you have and have ever had.

As someone who is an avid reader – and particularly of this genre – I’ve read a lot of stories that revolve around the main character running away to protect herself, or falling for the wrong person, or befriending the wrong person.  This one has it all, but somehow Stevens has a way of making it seem fresh and new.  Every character is flawed which makes all of them relatable – the mother who would do anything to protect her child; the husband with abandonment issues who became violent; the teenager who overshares and under-shares, desperate to hold on to relationships with both parents.

For someone who was in an abusive relationship and claims to have a hard time trusting anyone, Lindsey naïvely lets her guard down more often than not.  In the span of the novel, not only does she date two different men (Greg and Marcus), but she also talks freely about her past, sometimes divulging more details than she should.  She’s in constant contradiction to herself, one minute in a state of fight-or-flight and the other completely content.

We don’t know a lot about Andrew or what he went through in the past that causes him to act abusively, though he does admit to Sophie that his violence stemmed from severe abandonment issues.  I went back and forth on my feelings about Andrew, sometimes I believed that he really had changed and felt sorry for him, and other times I was convinced that he hadn’t.

And Sophie just seems like the typical teenager that you love to hate.  The one who is trying to become her own person and learning how to trust her gut, even if that means not always listening to the authority figure in her life.

At times dark and moody, Never Let You Go is a MUST read for suspense novel lovers.

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Never Let You Go by Chevy Stevens. St Martins Press 2017.

Wendy Walker’s Emma in the Night

“We believe what we want to believe. We believe what we need to believe. Maybe there’s no difference between wanting and needing. I don’t know. What I do know is that the truth can evade us, hiding behind our blind spots, our preconceptions, our hungry hearts that long for quiet. Still, it is always there if we open our eyes and try to see it. If we really try to see.”

A gripping new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of All Is Not Forgotten – in the vein of S.J. Watson and Tana French – following a psychologist’s desperate search to find a missing woman three years after her disappearance.

When Emma and Cass Tanner disappeared three years ago, the only clues they left behind were Emma’s car parked in the beach parking lot, and her shoes discarded in the sand. After a thorough investigation by the FBI and local law enforcement, no new information was discovered and the case remained unsolved – until three years later when Cass surfaces at her mother’s door in the early morning hours. Alternately narrated by Cass and Dr. Abby Winter – the FBI forensic psychologist who worked the original case – we are given the details of what happened to the girls on the night of their disappearance, and where they’ve been all this time. But something isn’t right: the facts don’t add up. How much of what Cass is saying is actually true? As Abby sifts through the truths and the lies, she uncovers something far darker than anyone could have imagined…but is she too late to save Emma?

Abby is one of those characters that, when a job hits too close to home, either falls completely apart or stands on the brink of falling apart. It’s why I loved Rob Ryan from In the Woods and Elliot Stabler from Law & Order SVU. She has become an insomniac who never sleeps, and an alcoholic. She doesn’t remember what happened in cases six months ago, but she still remembers every last detail of Emma and Cass’s disappearance. Characters like Abby, characters that become so emotionally invested in a case that they eat, breathe, and sleep the facts, they are the ones that seem the most real.

While Cass can be looked at with a skeptic lens, she is also the victim. She had to grow up way too soon. She had to learn how to lie and manipulate and play games to get things that we take for granted, without anyone to completely confide in. Cass is cold and calculating, but she acts that way because she has lost her ability to trust. At times she’s a bit unlikeable, but that gets overshadowed again and again by your ability to empathize with her.

What I love most about this novel is the same thing that I loved from her previous one: the psychology. Though psychological thrillers have become hugely popular in recent years, few people know how to do it right. A good thriller catches your attention, a great thriller grips you and doesn’t let go, but an exceptional thriller – though rare – forces you to slow down and absorb every last word, taking you to places far greater than you could ever expect. From the very first paragraph I could tell that Emma in the Night was one of those rare exceptionals. Walker’s descriptive prose is carefully crafted, and she keeps her cards close, not showing anything in her hand before you need it to be revealed.

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Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker. St Martin’s Press 2017.

Michelle Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband

A page-turning suspense novel reminiscent of Ruth Ware’s newly released The Lying Game, following three best friends – that met at college twenty-two years before – who must deal with the repercussions of a decades’ old secret that leads one of them to their death.

Aside from their living quarters, Kate, Jenny, and Aubrey – or, the Whipple Triplets, as they were aptly nicknamed – had nothing in common. Kate, who’s father was a Carlisle alumni, hailed from the privileged world of NYC’s Upper East Side. Jenny was born in Belle River, the town where Carlisle was located, where her parents owned a hardware store. And Aubrey, who was on scholarship, grew up in the slums of Las Vegas to a single mother who could barely afford to pay the bills. They were all running away from something, all trying to reinvent themselves. At first, their friendships seemed to bloom, but as is often the case with a close-knit group of adolescent girls, they soon were at odds over boys, going behind each other’s backs and at times engaging in silent competitions. Despite their antics, the three of them swore that they would always be there for each other (it was a love/hate bond)…until the end of their freshman year when something tragic causes them to part ways. Twenty-two years later, they are all married and have managed to move on with their lives when the past resurfaces.

These three women claim to be best friends, but underneath the surface they are more like frenemies, because they really can’t stand each other. Kate, Jenny, and Aubrey are all self-centered and care more about how they’re seen to the world and in their perspective lives, than anything else, but that’s part of what makes this book so interesting. None of the characters are really likeable, but your opinions of them constantly change. Sometimes they’re naïve, other times vindictive – what Campbell does is kid of brilliant actually, because there are moments where you do care, followed by moments where you don’t.

What I liked about this novel is that it really did keep me guessing as to who caused the death. Early enough on, we do find out which one of the frenemies dies, but the real mystery is who was involved in said death, which is not as black and white as you would expect. Campbell takes you on a rollercoaster ride – as soon as I was certain that I knew the answer, something new would be revealed that would completely change my opinion. You are really left guessing until the final page, and even then, the culprit is shocking.

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Michelle Campbell’s It’s Always the Husband. St Martin’s Press 2017.

Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You

“’Imagine if,’ she repeated. She’d liked the sound of the words when he said them. They sounded so much better than almost.”

A page-turning psychological suspense debut in the vein of Mary Torjussen’s Gone Without a Trace, about the consequences of secrets not shared.

We all have secrets, but how can you ascertain those that are harmless from those that have the power to destroy? While on a family vacation, Violet returns to the hotel room to find her husband, Finn, and their son, Bear, gone, and only her belongings remaining. A week later, Finn shows up with Bear at their friend Caitlin’s house demanding she help him hide, blackmailing her with a secret from her past. Told through the eyes of three narrators – Violet, Finn and Caitlin – Almost Missed You keeps the reader on the edge of her seat until the very end. What does Finn have over Caitlin? Will Violet get Bear back? And, most importantly, why did Finn run?

Although Violet does in fact love her son and is distraught over Bear’s disappearance, it’s sometimes hard to feel empathy towards her, as she is naïve and doesn’t seem to have much depth. She pushes away Grams and prefers to drink vodka alone. Violet believes that her and Finn’s love story was nothing short of magical and it’s not until she finds out the truth about his past that she starts to question the man that she married from the one that she first met on the beach all of those years ago.

Throughout the novel, Caitlin is very much in the fight or flight mode. On the one hand she feels for her Violet and wants to tell her that Bear is safe, but on the other, she’s worried that the life she had made for herself is going to completely fall apart. Perhaps Caitlin should have told Violet about Finn’s past. Maybe if she had, the outcome would have been different, but she was Finn’s friend first and it was not her secret to tell.

Surprisingly, my favorite character was not Violet or Caitlin, but actually Finn – not what you would expect given his actions, but I felt that he was the most real. He made mistakes, but he actually let himself feel things. He wasn’t scared of the pain: he wanted to feel it. Everyone kept talking about how he and Violet were meant to be, how the way they met and then found each other again was one in a million, but the truth was that Finn was still living in the past and their relationship never stood a chance.

At times heart-wrenching, Almost Missed You shows that there is always more than one side to a story…sometimes there is three. And that sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you can never really know a person.

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Jessica Strawser’s Almost Missed You. St Martin’s Press 2017.

Wendy Walker’s All is Not Forgotten

“I heard a mumble then, a very quiet mumble. I looked at Jenny. Tears rolled down her face. Her mouth was dry as she whispered the word. Girl. Girl.

 

There’s a right time and moment to pick up a book. Sometimes, they have to be saved until we’re ready to experience them, until we’re in the right mindset in order to really appreciate and understand them the way that they were meant to be understood. Recently, I’d been indecisive, struggling to make a decision between the piles of books that I have at my apartment and my office. It had been three days since I finished the last book I’d been reading. Three days without reading is a rarity for me, unless I’m going through some personal turmoil. So, on that Friday afternoon, I stared at my stacks and picked up All is Not Forgotten. I had been holding onto an advanced copy for a long time – it pubbed this past summer – but finally, I was ready to read it.

Jenny, a teenage girl, is raped in the woods while music from a house party – one she’d been attending – blared in the background. At the hospital, she’s given a drug. Its purpose was to erase the memory of the event from her mind and enable her to live on as though the rape did not happen. But can your mind ever really forget? Narrated by Alan, a psychiatrist who works with Jenny to try and help her recover her stolen memories, we learn something that we already know: that the brain is complicated. And, while its capacity to retain memories and file them away is truly fascinating, there is still so much that is unknown.

So many novels on rape focus on the victim, which is why I thought it an interesting choice to use Alan as the narrator. He’s far enough removed that he can see what Jenny and her parents cannot. At the same time, he’s also invested…sometimes almost obsessively so. But it’s not until the novel ends that we really understand why. Not one of the characters is the person that they present to the world. Everyone is hiding behind a screen, terrified that they will be found out.

In the end, is Alan able to help Jenny recover that memory? And if so, will she be able to move on with her life?

 

“Jenny. Do you want to remember what happened to you that night in the woods?”

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All is Not Forgotten.  Wendy Walker.  St Martin’s Press 2016

Emily Giffin’s Something Blue

In honor of the recent release of Emily Giffin’s seventh novel, The One & Only, of which I am eager to delve into, I took a step back to the beginning of her writing career and reread her second novel, Something Blue, the sequel to Something Borrowed (will she ever bring back those characters again?), which brings back the beautiful, but self-centered Darcy as she travels to London to seek the comfort of her friend Ethan and start a new life away from New York, away from her ex-fiancé, away from her former best friend, and really, away from everyone who didn’t agree with the way she was choosing to live her life. With her impending motherhood, will Darcy be able to change her life for the better, or will she stay stuck in her ways?

What I love about Giffin is that not only is she great at getting the chick-lit story right, but she’s also a good writer which you don’t see a lot in that genre. Even though her stories have a light air to them, they also possess great strength and always make me take a step back and examine certain things about myself, decisions that I’ve made or haven’t made. All of her characters grow in one way or another. Take Darcy for instance. In the first novel we see her in she is extremely self-centered. She’s that way too in the beginning of Something Blue, but eventually learns that life can’t always be that way, and that if she were to stay on the path that she was going, she would never actually be happy. It’s a hard lesson for anyone to learn, but a valuable one. I leave you with a quote from the novel.

“Love and friendship. They are what make us who we are, and what can change us, if we let them.”

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Emily Giffin’s Love the One You’re With

In Emily Giffin’s Love the One You’re With, she explores the idea about what could happen if the one who got away resurfaced.  How would you react to the situation?  Would you let that person back into your life, or would you close yourself off and run in the other direction?  The answer seems like it should be black and white, especially if you’re in a place in your life where you are happy, but for Ellen, it is the hardest decision that she has ever had to make.  It had been almost ten years since she had laid eyes on him, but one fateful night, on a rainy NYC street corner, she runs into Leo and her life as she knows it may never be the same.

Ellen is a freelance photographer, something that she loves, and her husband, Andy, is a lawyer, working for a large firm and hating every minute of it.  Andy’s sister Margot is Ellen’s best friend, and the reason why she and Andy got together in the first place.  Ellen and Margot met when they were freshman in college and, as luck would have it, roommates.  They would go on to room together throughout their college careers, and then again when Margot decided to move to NY and take Ellen with her.  Naturally, when Ellen and Andy began dating, Margot was thrilled, especially when comparing Andy to Ellen’s last love, Leo.  Andy was everything that Leo wasn’t.  He was sweet and courteous, he didn’t think that the world revolved around him, and he was interested in what Ellen was doing and what she had to say.  All in all, they were a perfect fit, creating a good life with each other…until Leo came back into the picture.

When Ellen runs into Leo on the street corner, her first instinct is to run away, but she finds that she cannot contain her curiosity as to what he has been up to and if he’s still the same person that she once knew.  Leo offers her the job of a lifetime, which Ellen turns down, only to be offered the same job through her agent not soon after.  Ellen travels to LA with her sister Suzanne – the only person that she has told about Leo – for her photo shoot, and is surprised when none other than Leo is there.  This sets off a chain of events – one of which being that she and Andy move to Atlanta to be closer to his family and so he can work with his father in the family business – that leads Ellen to make the decision of her life.  Will she stay with her husband despite the not-so-idyllic new city they live in, or will she go back to the one who broke her heart?

Love the One You’re With is a tale about a woman in a crossroads of her life, and the way that she goes about dealing with the situation.  One may not agree with how she handles things, but, if you were put into a similar situation, would you not at least contemplate doing the same?  I love this story because it shows that we’re all just human, we all have faults and weaknesses, some of which – in Ellen’s case – may be stronger than others, but at the end of the day, we make the right choices (one would hope) for our lives, as Ellen does with hers.  I leave you with a quote!
 

“Sometimes there are no happy endings.  No matter what, I’ll be losing something, someone….But maybe that’s what it all comes down to.  Love, not as a surge of passion, but as a choice to commit to something, someone, no matter what obstacles or temptations stand in the way.  And maybe making that choice, again and again, day in and day out, year after year, says more about love than never having a choice to make at all.”

Gemma Burgess’ Brooklyn Girls

A few weeks ago, my friend Melissa told me about a book that she was obsessed with and wanted me to read once she was finished.  I was unsure if I would get into it because it didn’t quite seem like my type of book – my boyfriend has accused me of being a book snob – but I’ve recently been trying to expand my “narrow field,” so I decided to give it a try.

Gemma Burgess’ third book, Brooklyn Girls, is about five women (Pia, Julie, Angie, Coco and Madeline) in their early twenties, just starting on life after college, trying not only to make it in the world (living independently without help from their parents), but also, trying to figure out who they really are and what they’re interested in.  It is the first book in a series of the same name (the second book, Love and Chaos is due out winter 2014), told through the eyes of Pia.  Pia is a bit spoiled; her parents have paid her way through life and gotten her out of trouble numerous times, but when she loses her job in a PR agency after only being there for a week because of a drunken night (her father had gotten her that job), her parents take action.  They cut her off completely, not even sending any money for rent, and give her an ultimatum: if she doesn’t make something of herself in two months, they were going to take her back to Zurich with them.  This results in Pia trying out different, sometimes eccentric jobs, none of which seem to be going anywhere for her, until, while visiting the Brooklyn Flea, she comes up with the idea to launch a health-food food truck which she calls SkinnyWheels.  The question is, how will she get the money to pay for it? 

From violent loan sharks, drunk roommates and bonding over shared experiences, to an ex that she can’t get over (it’s been four years) and a guy she may miss out on, Pia spends her possible last two months of freedom in chaos, but having a blast (most of the time).  She reminds me a bit of Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & the City – likeable, but has those cringe worthy moments where you just want to tell her to stop, take a step back and think first.

What I find particularly funny about this book is that the characters live in a part of Brooklyn that I know well, they walk down the same streets that I do, go to places that I’ve either gone to or know about.  Many times when I read a book, it takes place either somewhere that I’ve never been or somewhere that I’ve never heard of.  I feel like it makes the characters that much more relatable with them running around in your own backyard.  Also, by reading about Pia and her roommates, this book makes you take a look at your own life and reevaluate it.  Are you exactly where you want to be?  Are there any improvements that you could make to your carrier or life?  Are you out of control running around drunk and doing drugs like Pia’s roommate and best friend Angie, cab surfing on the Brooklyn Bridge? 

The next novel in this series takes on the perspective of Angie, which I feel will be quite interesting, and Melissa and I will be reading it.