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Saturday, September 6, 2014

REVIEW: THE GOOD GIRL, BY MARY KUBICA

When Mia Dennett, a 25-year-old art teacher, mysteriously disappears, her family has varied reactions. Her father James, the judge, who is filled with his own self-importance and has never gotten along with Mia, thinks she is just doing what Mia does, moving to the beat of her own drum. But Eve, the mother, is worried. She knows that, in spite of some times during her teens when she acted out, Mia is responsible...and good.

Eve first learns of her disappearance when one of Mia's colleagues calls after she doesn't show up for work...and that fact is concerning, as Mia is responsible about her work. Even though Mia has her own apartment and doesn't see her family often, she does talk to her mother. Her estrangement from her father and older sister seems to be more about them and their idea of who she should be. Image, money, and power drive them, while Mia is drawn to creative pursuits.

Gabe Hoffman is the detective who responds, and the one who will follow along with them through the investigation. His persistence and ability to seek answers makes him heroic, in Eve's eyes. She comes to rely on him when her husband is increasingly more self-involved and remote.

Mia's older sister Grace, an attorney, is seemingly detached, as if she could care less.

In an interesting back and forth style, we follow the main players in this drama. They tell the story from their perspectives, and we can see where we are in the time frame by the titles of each chapter, like "Eve: Before," or "Eve: After."

We know right away that Mia has been found at some point, because in Eve's and Gabe's "after" sections, she is with them in the present. But not really there. Something has wiped out her memory of events.

Colin is another narrator, and we learn the most from his perspective about what is happening to Mia while she is away. We see the two of them in the remote Minnesota log cabin and watch as Mia and Colin grow closer, in a Stockholm Syndrome fashion...and in these sections, I worried about what would ultimately happen. Something traumatic occurs in those final moments in the cabin that will take many months and several subsequent events to set Mia free.

Short chapters that bring the reader increasingly closer to the final denouement kept me rapidly turning pages and marveling at how the story forms and ultimately brings us our answers. A startling reveal near the end did not really surprise me, as I had suspicions about this character. But then, in an epilogue from Mia's perspective, the final twist totally stunned me. And made The Good Girl a 5 star read for me.

***

Saturday, August 23, 2014

REVIEW: FINAL APPEAL, BY LISA SCOTTOLINE

Grace Rossi, single mom to six-year-old Maddie, is starting over again. Divorced, she no longer works as a trial lawyer. Instead, she works part-time in the appellate court in Philadelphia, for a judge she admires. This aspect of the job probably makes it all worthwhile for her. She is attracted to her boss, but doesn't think anything will happen between them.

A death penalty case is up for appeal and time is running out. Grace and her boss, Judge Armen Gregorian, believe his sentence should be reversed. There are plenty of others who do not. The two of them spend long hours one night working on the case; they take their attraction for one another to the next level and have sex; and words of love are uttered by Armen to Grace.

Hours later, she learns that he is dead. Shot, presumably a suicide.

But Grace does not believe it. Not after their time together...and not after the love note she found in her coat pocket afterwards.

Final Appeal is a little bit convoluted, as we try to sort through the various suspects and motives for a murder. There is no shortage of people who might have reason to kill the Chief Judge, and motives that are numerous.

In the end, I was stunned by the reveal. None of the pieces came together in a logical fashion for me. I did enjoy aspects of the story, however, and my favorite parts were the interactions between Grace, her daughter, and her co-workers. An undercover FBI agent was also an intriguing character to add to the mix. 3.5 stars.

***

Saturday, August 16, 2014

REVIEW: DOLLBABY, BY LAURA LANE MCNEAL

New Orleans in 1964 was still steeped in traditions, but all of that was about to change.

And for Liberty (Ibby) Bell, a twelve-year-old girl from Olympia, Washington, it was the time when her mother dropped her off, literally, on her grandmother's doorstep.

A short time before, Ibby's father Graham had died after a freak accident, and now her mother Vidrine had just told her she was here to visit her grandmother Fannie.

But all Ibby can remember about her grandmother, whom she had never met, was how much her mother hated her. So why was she leaving her there?

We follow Ibby's sojourn in this unfamiliar Southern world, at the same time that the country is changing to accommodate the new Civil Rights Act. Sit-ins, protests, and racial tensions would be commonplace for the next few years, along with the Vietnam War. But in Fannie Bell's household, tradition still reigns, and her home is run by her black household helpers, Queenie and Doll (also called Dollbaby), who are like a part of the family. Their delightful and warm personalities and the way they enfold Ibby as if she were one of their own made me feel right at home with them, too.

Dollbaby: A Novel is a story that wraps itself around the reader, revealing the historic moments in the life of a family that unfold much as the country's historic moments have done. It spans almost a decade, from 1964 to 1972, but we also are gifted with moments from the past, revealing much about Fannie and the life she led before she became a mother and grandmother. Secrets, betrayals, violence, and the unconditional love that Ibby learns to accept as her due, are part of her heritage, even as her life follows a path dictated by her grandmother. Learning her grandmother's secrets was also a gradual process, and this story made me laugh, cry, and remember how much history each family contains. Unforgettable story. 4.0 stars.
***

Saturday, July 26, 2014

REVIEW: EVERYWHERE THAT MARY WENT, BY LISA SCOTTOLINE

In a high-powered Philadelphia law firm, Mary DiNunzio is working hard to earn a position as a partner. She has a lot to prove, to herself and to her family.

But something is distracting her these days, threatening to derail her focus.

First there were the oddly threatening notes, hang-ups on the phone, and then the feeling that someone is always following her. But who? And why?

Mary hasn't felt like herself since the hit and run death of her husband Mike Lassiter a few months before. So is she imagining the menace that seems to be hovering over her?

But her best friend and co-associate at the firm, Judy Carrier, does not think so. Between the two of them, they start to piece together the clues. And then a second hit and run death leads Mary and Judy to believe that there might be a connection between the "accidents."

Everything ratchets up a few notches as various possible suspects come to mind. Could it be someone at the firm? A jealous associate? Or possibly a rejected suitor?

Everywhere That Mary Went (Rosato & Associates Book 1) was a page-turning thriller that had me guessing until the very end. I trusted none of the possible suspects, but I was blindsided by the identity of the perpetrator. And in between the mysterious events, there was a lot of fun dialogue and charming episodes with Mary's Italian family. I have read and enjoyed other books in this series, but it was delightful to read this one that introduces the main characters. Four stars.
 
***
 

Friday, July 18, 2014

REVIEW: PAIN, PARTIES, WORK, BY ELIZABETH WINDER

In the summer of 1953, Sylvia Plath and several other college girls were chosen as guest editors for Mademoiselle Magazine, to work on the college issue.

A month long frenzy of activities, from work in the bull pen, to photo shoots, to luncheons, and to a round of parties, would ultimately become a series of defining moments for the young women.

Entering her senior year at Smith following that summer, Sylvia's plans to write her senior thesis on James Joyce came to a screeching halt when she found herself struggling with the readings, her comprehension seemingly gone.

Self-confidence was at an all-time low when she attempted suicide, and subsequently spent time in a psychiatric hospital. But afterwards, in the Platinum Year of 1954, Sylvia seemed "golden" again, with her newly blonded hair and her revitalized attitude.

In later years, Sylvia would plumb the depths to write about the "hottest summer of her life." Those experiences, fictionalized, would become the core of The Bell Jar.

"Sylvia's experiences in the city that summer ignited her already harsh eye. The Bell Jar burns with a merciless bathing-suit-in-the-dressing-room fluorescent light. But this same garish illumination can be fresh, perversely flattering in a truthful/trashy way—like a snapshot where the skin has too much shine on it and there are too many dark shadows and everyone looks like a deer in the headlights, caught in the moment of reliving some recent humiliation."

The 1950s in America were a time before the big changes that would come. Before Betty Friedan's book illuminating "the problem that has no name." Before the protests and fervor of a generation discovering freedoms previously unexplored. I remember these times well. And the fashions of that summer of 1953 were some that I recall with distaste. The fabrics, the styles...they spoke of a hobbling of a woman's self as well as her physical being. Unattractive and binding, the subsequent decades could not come soon enough for those of us living then.

One of Sylvia's friends during that summer, Neva Nelson, summed up their experiences:

 "We were all immature adolescents—products of the middle 1950s, pre-Pill, pre-Feminine Mystique—expected to do something extraordinary, but left with the ambiguity of the female role, with its stress on home and family."

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 (P.S.) is a time-out-of-time series of experiences that revealed the girlish Sylvia Plath, still self-confident, for the most part...still golden. A portrait of the young woman, encapsulated in this moment in time, the story elicits sadness for the lost girl and the life cut short.  4.0 stars.

***


Friday, July 4, 2014

REVIEW: LITTLE LIES, BY HEATHER GUDENKAUF

In the middle of the night, Ellen Moore, social worker, receives a call that takes her out of her home, leaving behind her husband and three children.

She is used to these calls, but they never bring good news with them. And like the other times, this one involves a child. But abandonment is not the issue in this case. The child's mother has been murdered and left beside a statue in the park. Her four-year-old son was left next to her, alive and apparently unhurt.

Ellen's friend, police detective Joe Gaddey, is on the case. What about this situation rings a memory bell for the two of them? Is it a coincidence, or is there more to the story? They try to search out the possible connections.

Little Lies, a novella, is the prequel to Little Mercies, which will continue a story featuring Ellen Moore. This was an enjoyable read that whetted my appetite for the next book. After the unexpected resolution to the murder, the social worker wonders if the child should be protected from the knowledge of what happened to his mother. Is truth always the best thing? 5.0 stars.

***

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

REVIEW: SHE CAN HIDE, BY MELINDA LEIGH

After surviving a brutal attack three years before, Abby Foster is starting over in a small town in the Pennsylvania mountains. Westbury seems to promise the quiet normal life this high school teacher has been yearning.

But while driving her car one day, Abby ends up in the bottom of an icy river, facing death again. Luckily, Officer Ethan Hale was passing by and helped save her. But as grateful as she is, Abby has her own reasons for not knowing if she can trust him. But as she watches him over the next few days and has seen how protective Ethan is, Abby begins to trust him a little, and something more is now brewing between them. Can she trust him with her heart?

With no memory of the two hours before her plunge into the river, the answers that follow thrust her into fear once again. After testing her water bottle, the police have discovered that a poisonous substance had been added. The river plunge was no accident.

Who is trying to kill her again? The man responsible for the previous attempt was supposedly still in prison, but new discoveries lead them on a quest to find out just who is behind both attempts. Who from Abby's past is out to get her?

Why is Abby traveling to Atlantic City to meet with a mob boss? What secrets is she hiding that might put her further at risk?

Great characters populate this story, and with lots of twists and turns and new surprises around every corner, She Can Hide (She Can Series) is a tumultuous ride toward solving all the mysteries and keeping the innocent safe. With mob bosses and meth addicts added to the mix, there could be plenty of violence before it all comes to an end. 5.0

***

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Mary Ann in Autumn: A Tales of the City NovelHanna's DaughtersMiss Hildreth Wore BrownElizabethSolomon's OakSolomon's Oak

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