REVIEW: THE STEPSISTERS, BY SUSAN MALLERY

Once upon a time, when her dad married Sage’s mom, Daisy was thrilled to get a bright and shiny new sister. But Sage was beautiful and popular, everything Daisy was not, and she made sure Daisy knew it.

Sage didn’t have Daisy’s smarts—she had to go back a grade to enroll in the fancy rich-kid school. So she used her popularity as a weapon, putting Daisy down to elevate herself. After the divorce, the stepsisters’ rivalry continued until the final, improbable straw: Daisy married Sage’s first love, and Sage fled California.

Eighteen years, two kids and one troubled marriage later, Daisy never expects—or wants—to see Sage again. But when the little sister they have in common needs them both, they put aside their differences to care for Cassidy. As long-buried truths are revealed, no one is more surprised than they when friendship blossoms.

Their fragile truce is threatened by one careless act that could have devastating consequences. They could turn their backs on each other again…or they could learn to forgive once and for all and finally become true sisters of the heart.
 
 
 
potpourri thoughts

The Stepsisters is a tale about a dysfunctional family and the aftermath of divorce and custody issues.

As we meet Daisy and her children, learn about the problems in her marriage, and then see her reconnecting with her stepsister Sage, we begin to realize how their childhood traumas have followed them into adulthood.

Then Daisy’s half sister Cassidy arrives on the scene at a very challenging time, and we predict more chaos and frustration for Daisy.

But what happens instead is the beginning of real communication and how they each start to reexamine the misunderstandings that led to the rift between them.

I liked how they slowly began to develop a real friendship.

But would it last, or would additional betrayals come along to thwart their efforts? Just when I thought there was no hope, I liked how they all slowly began to repair the wounds. 4.5 stars.
 
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REVIEW: LIFE & OTHER INCONVENIENCES, BY KRISTAN HIGGINS

Emma London never thought she had anything in common with her grandmother Genevieve London. The regal old woman came from wealthy and bluest-blood New England stock, but that didn’t protect her from life’s cruelest blows: the disappearance of Genevieve’s young son, followed by the premature death of her husband. But Genevieve rose from those ashes of grief and built a fashion empire that was respected the world over, even when it meant neglecting her other son.

When Emma’s own mother died, her father abandoned her on his mother’s doorstep. Genevieve took Emma in and reluctantly raised her—until Emma got pregnant her senior year of high school. Genevieve kicked her out with nothing but the clothes on her back…but Emma took with her the most important London possession: the strength not just to survive but to thrive. And indeed, Emma has built a wonderful life for herself and her teenage daughter, Riley.

So what is Emma to do when Genevieve does the one thing Emma never expected of her and, after not speaking to her for nearly two decades, calls and asks for help?l

potpourri thoughts

From the very first page of Life and Other Inconveniences, I was immersed in the family dynamics and the intriguing characters. They felt so real, and they kept me smiling, laughing, and sometimes crying.

Emma was my favorite character, along with her daughter Riley. Genevieve, whom we came to know a little better when her alternating narrative took over, kept me intrigued. She was a mixed bag of sadness, loss, and the kind of staunch grit that comes with her background and experiences.

There were times that I could almost empathize with Clark, Emma’s father, but he was such a weak imitation of the life he could have had.

So many troubled characters who could have had more, but who sank to the lowest of lows when confronted with difficulty. Or those little inconveniences that life throws at us. These were the characters against whom we cast the truly great ones, like Emma and Riley.

Then we meet Miller, and watch him deal with his challenging daughter Tess, and the combination of Emma and Miller made my heart soar. A lovely 4.5 star read.

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REVIEW: WHITE PALACE, BY GLENN SAVAN

white palace book

An urban tale of love against the odds, in which Max, an upwardly mobile copywriter and Nora, a 40 year-old waitress from the wrong side of town, become embroiled in a torrid affair.
 
 
potpourri thoughts

White Palace was a book I read after I had seen the James Spader/Susan Sarandon movie, which I loved and viewed several times.

The language in the book, including the dialogue, mirrored many aspects of the movie, and I especially liked how both the book and the movie showed us Max’s fussy behavior, like constantly straightening the fringes on his rug and arranging his clothes in the closet to emphasize the style and color. Nora, on the other hand, lived a chaotic and messy lifestyle, but her exuberance appealed to Max.

From Max’s point of view, we see Nora’s glaring imperfections, which somehow draw him to her even more than the beauty of his deceased wife.

Their journey together had many ups and downs, and often they seemed very incompatible. When an unexpected event happened, their relationship ended, but Max felt the loss of her deeply. What would he do to reconnect with her? Would they finally pick up the pieces? A 4 star read.

 
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REVIEW: TRIPLE CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE MURDER, BY JOANNE FLUKE

 

Hannah’s up to her ears with Easter orders rushing in at The Cookie Jar, plus a festive meal to prepare for a dinner party at her mother’s penthouse. But everything comes crashing to a halt when Hannah receives a panicked call from her sister Andrea—Mayor Richard Bascomb has been murdered . . . and Andrea is the prime suspect.

Even with his reputation for being a bully, Mayor Bascomb—or “Ricky Ticky,” as Hannah’s mother likes to call him—had been unusually testy in the days leading up to his death, leaving Hannah to wonder if he knew he was in danger. Meanwhile, folks with a motive for mayoral murder are popping up in Lake Eden. Was it a beleaguered colleague? A political rival? A jealous wife? Or a scorned mistress?

As orders pile up at The Cookie Jar—and children line up for Easter egg hunts—Hannah must spring into investigation mode and identify the real killer . . . before another murder happens!

 
 
 

As we dive into Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder, we follow along with Hannah and her friends as they interview suspects and bake cookies, pies, and serve up delicious dinners. This cozy mystery pulled me in, as I enjoyed the characters. Since this book is #27 of 27 in the series, there were aspects of Hannah’s life I had missed, which the author filled in nicely. Like the fact that Hannah was married to a man named Ross, who was recently murdered in their condo. She is staying with her friend Norman until her cat Moishe can handle being in the condo that traumatized him.

In between the quest for clues, we can visualize the food, interiors, and characteristics of Hannah’s friends and family. A nice cozy element to the story.

I also enjoyed how the author led us through Hannah’s various baking and cooking moments, literally making my mouth water, although some of the steps in her process seemed a bit repetitive. I felt as though I were viewing one of the Hallmark movies based on these books.

Most chapters ended with a series of recipes. A delightful journey that held my interest throughout. 4.5 stars.

 
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REVIEW: PRETTY LITTLE WIFE, BY DARBY KANE

Lila Ridgefield lives in an idyllic college town, but not everything is what it seems. Lila isn’t what she seems.

A student vanished months ago. Now, Lila’s husband, Aaron, is also missing. At first these cases are treated as horrible coincidences until it’s discovered the student is really the third of three unexplained disappearances over the last few years. The police are desperate to find the connection, if there even is one. Little do they know they might be stumbling over only part of the truth….

With the small town in an uproar, everyone is worried about the whereabouts of their beloved high school teacher. Everyone except Lila, his wife. She’s definitely confused about her missing husband but only because she was the last person to see his body, and now it’s gone.

Lila’s relationship with husband Aaron has turned toxic, with his controlling ways and recently discovered predatory behavior with his students. Can the Pretty Little Wife stay the course, or must she take some drastic actions?

When Aaron disappears, we are left guessing about what has transpired, but we do have our suspicions about what might have happened. Would Lila be able to deal with the target on her back as the cops turn a close eye on her?

Throughout the intense story, some parts dragged while other parts only hinted at the truth. What would we eventually discover about the missing husband, and how would we put the pieces together? A tangled web of broken individuals. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: SINGLE MOTHER, BY SAMANTHA HAYES

 
 
 
I will do anything to protect my daughter. She’s all I’ve ever wanted and all I really have, but the moment I opened that letter and accepted the gift inside, I walked us right into a dangerous trap.

I know I should have got her to tell me who she’s been talking to on the phone late at night, and where she was the day I went to pick her up from school and couldn’t find her, but she’s not spoken a word since she discovered a secret hidden in our new home.

And now she’s missing…

 
 
 
 

From the very first page of Single Mother, I knew that we wouldn’t be able to trust most of the characters. Perhaps even those we least suspect could be betraying Mel, our protagonist. As she takes each step forward, hoping to provide a home and safety for her daughter Kate, we dare not look away.

I was rooting for Mel and Kate throughout the book, even as I wondered about those who were nearest and dearest to her. Could those she had known and trusted for years turn out to betray her?

Who is the quiet woman sitting in the window, and why doesn’t she speak? Does she dare trust Tom, the handyman who is helping her renovate the hotel she inherited? And who left her that gift? What was the hidden agenda behind it all?

Definitely a page turner that earned 4.5 stars.

 
***
 
 
 
 

REVIEW: THE COUSINS, BY KAREN M. MCMANUS

 

Milly, Aubrey, and Jonah Story are cousins, but they barely know each another, and they’ve never even met their grandmother. Rich and reclusive, she disinherited their parents before they were born. So when they each receive a letter inviting them to work at her island resort for the summer, they’re surprised . . . and curious.

Their parents are all clear on one point—not going is not an option. This could be the opportunity to get back into Grandmother’s good graces. But when the cousins arrive on the island, it’s immediately clear that she has different plans for them. And the longer they stay, the more they realize how mysterious—and dark—their family’s past is.

The entire Story family has secrets. Whatever pulled them apart years ago isn’t over—and this summer, the cousins will learn everything.

 

Meeting long lost family members can bring much more than an anticipated summer on an island for The Cousins. The reader learns the unfolding events of years past during the summer adventure that promises to offer much more than just reconnecting with family.

The tale gradually comes to us through alternating narrators, swinging between the past and the present, with more and more intensity as we zero in on what really happened back when the Story children were disinherited.

The grim reality comes to grip them all in the here and now. A great story about the Story family. I couldn’t put it down. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: SHELTER IN PLACE, BY DAVID LEAVITT

 

It is the Saturday after the 2016 presidential election, and in a plush weekend house in Connecticut, an intimate group of friends, New Yorkers all, has gathered to recover from what they consider the greatest political catastrophe of their lives. They have just sat down to tea when their hostess, Eva Lindquist, proposes a dare. Who among them would be willing to ask Siri how to assassinate Donald Trump? Liberal and like-minded-editors, writers, a decorator, a theater producer, and one financial guy, Eva’s husband, Bruce-the friends have come to the countryside in the hope of restoring the bubble in which they have grown used to living. Yet with the exception of one brash and obnoxious book editor, none is willing to accept Eva’s challenge.

Shelter in Place is a novel about house and home, furniture and rooms, safety and freedom and the invidious ways in which political upheaval can undermine even the most seemingly impregnable foundations. Eva is the novel’s polestar, a woman who moves through her days accompanied by a roving, carefully curated salon. She’s a generous hostess and more than a bit of a control freak, whose obsession with decorating allows Leavitt to treat us to a slyly comic look at the habitués and fetishes of the so-called shelter industry. Yet when, in her avidity to secure shelter for herself, she persuades Bruce to buy a grand if dilapidated apartment in Venice, she unwittingly sets off the chain of events that will propel him, for the first time, to venture outside the bubble and embark on a wholly unexpected love affair.

Considering the past four years that were launched by that 2016 election, Shelter in Place feels like an epitaph to a country that once had hopes and dreams. The “bubble” in which the characters have been living, when contrasted by real-life events that none of them could even imagine, felt almost nostalgic.

Scenes of interiors and fantasy escapes from reality were couched in humor, however, which gave me something to smile about as we look ahead to a real-life escape from the intensity of this four-year period: the Trump presidency in all its infamy.

Their world of privilege seems narcissistic when compared to those whose lives were toppled by the aftermath of that infamous election. From the 2020 world in which many readers have lived in recent weeks, 2016 might almost seem like a fairytale.

The characters were spoiled and entitled…but interesting, too. I did love reading about the interiors, which made me feel envious of such privileged lives.

In the end, the story did take me out of current reality for a while. 4.5 stars.

***

REVIEW: DIRT, BY MARY MARANTZ

 

Dirt is a story about the places where we start. From a single-wide trailer in the mountains of rural West Virginia to the halls of Yale Law School, Mary Marantz’s story is one of remembering our roots while turning our faces to the sky. From growing up in that trailer, where it rained just as hard inside as out and the smell of mildew hung thick in the air, Mary has known what it is to feel broken and disqualified because of the muddy scars leaving smudged fingerprints across our lives. Generations of her family lived and logged in those hauntingly treacherous woods, risking life and limb just to barely scrape by. And yet that very struggle became the redemption song God used to write a life she never dreamed of.

Mixed with warmth, wit, and the bittersweet, sometimes achingly heartbreaking places we go when we dig in instead of give up, Dirt is a story of healing. With gut-wrenching honesty and hard-won wisdom, Mary shares her story for anyone who has ever walked into the world and felt like their scars were still on display, showing that you are braver, better, and more empathetic for what you have survived. Because God does his best work in the muddy, messy, and broken—if we’ll only learn to dig in.

 

What happens when the hero of our story at last has to come face-to-face with what no amount of success will ever fix? That feeling of being on the outside looking in.

From the mountains of West Virginia and a dirt-filled single wide trailer, our narrator shows us how getting what we want doesn’t always fix things. But at the same time, we get to see how her childhood and growing up with love and dirt can reveal how one can stand taller after facing the struggle.

Dirt is a story of growing up and finding one’s place in the world, despite the disadvantages of one’s roots. It is about a reconciliation with the roots that grow us, springing from the muddiest parts of our story. A story that started with dirt.

Beautifully written, I could not put it down until the end. 4.5 stars. #2020ReadNonficChallenge

REVIEW: OPEN HOUSE, BY KATIE SISE

 
A decade ago in upstate New York, art student Emma McCullough walked in-to the woods and was never seen again. It’s a mystery that still haunts her bucolic university town and her broken family, especially her sister, Haley, whose need for closure has become an obsession. But now, finally, the first piece of evidence in the vanishing has been found: Emma’s bracelet, lodged in a frozen piece of earth at the bottom of a gorge. For Emma’s three best college friends, for a beloved former teacher, and for Haley, the chilling trinket is more than a clue in a resurrected cold case. It’s a trigger.
Then a woman is attacked during an open house, and the connections between the two crimes, ten winters apart, begin to surface. So do the secrets that run as deep and dark as the currents in this quiet river town.
Open House is a tale of a missing girl and the friends who each have pieces of information about the moments leading to the ten-year-old event.
Emma’s sister Haley, a med student; her fiancé, Dean; and her college roommate Josie and her husband Noah, are all part of the mystery. Brad and Priya also have bits of information.Our story alternates between the past and the present, narrated by the various characters.

Discovering what really happened on the night Emma went missing slowly comes together ten years afterwards, and I was stunned by all who were culpable in some way. 4.5 stars.