The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (Thriller)

The write-up for this psychological thriller warns that even when you think you have things all figured out, you’ll be wrong. This is true.

Lots of twists and unexpected turns make this a book that will keep you off-balance. What seems to be a somewhat unlikeable protagonist/narrator morphs into someone you begin to understand. Not everything she has said and done was reckless after all. She’s not as unreliable as she seems. There are good reasons why things happened the way they did. Things you don’t see coming suddenly make sense when you think back on how it all played out.

Hendricks and Pekkanen combine their respective careers as book editor and best-selling novelist to produce a work meant to make the most of what’s popular in today’s fiction. It’s full of familiar tropes: the rich, handsome, doting husband who’s too good to be true; the awestruck young wife blinded by her fairy-tale life; the vindictive former wife stalking the new wife. The authors cleverly tweak the familiar to keep it unpredictable and introduce new “aha!” moments that won’t let you put the book down until it’s finished.

A good read when you’re looking for something that holds your interest but then lets you move on without too much introspection… unless, of course, you’re married to someone who seems too good to be true.

Grandma gives The Wife Between Us four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Wife Between Us will be released on January 9, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

Advertisements

The Art of Hiding

The Art of Hiding

The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

The missing husband with a deep, dark secret and a clueless wife has become a familiar trope in women’s contemporary fiction. (See The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall.)

Something terrible takes the husband out of the picture — be it death, a trip from which he never returns, or accusation of a heinous crime. The wife, accustomed to an idyllic life of upper class ease and opulence, is suddenly faced with harsh reality: she has been married for decades to a man she doesn’t really know. To make matters worse, their finances — of which she has always remained blissfully ignorant — are a mess. Her high-society friends turn their backs.  Now, fraught with anger and disillusionment, she must struggle to remake her life, come to terms with his deceptive behavior, and figure out why he did this to her and the kids. At the same time, she mourns his loss and must protect her children from the truth about their father so as not to taint his memory.

In The Art of Hiding, Nina is a socially stunted stay-at-home British mom who has always let her husband, Finn, take care of everything. When Finn dies in a fatal single-car accident, she learns they are penniless; his formerly thriving construction business has gone belly up, and she never knew. He owes an exorbitant amount of money to creditors, and every family possession, except for the clothes on their backs, is being taken by court order — the huge house in a posh neighborhood, all of its expensive contents, their luxury car. Nina’s two boys can no longer go to their expensive private school, and they are not welcome in the homes of their former friends. Her sister, Tiggy, from whom she has become estranged, comes to help, even though she has always disapproved of Finn’s influence on Nina.

Thrown out on the street, with no car and no work experience, Nina is an emotional, incompetent mess. She has no skills; she has lived her entire adult life within her husband’s shadow, letting him take responsibility for everything. She’s in tears a lot, and she’s at loose ends, afraid of trying anything. Her teen-aged son is understandably sullen and angry; her pre-teen son is more resilient and forgiving. For much of the book, we watch them struggle until finally Nina gets a job, and the family comes to terms with its new life.

The story is told solely from the point of view of Nina, and, to be honest, I skimmed much of the middle while she languishes in grief and confusion. I found myself less than sympathetic to her dilemma. We’re shown glimpses of her sad, somewhat abusive childhood, but instead of making her tough and self-sufficient like her sister, it apparently left her eager to let someone else take care of her. Her total lack of awareness regarding her husband’s stress-filled, apparently suicide-inducing daily existence seemed unrealistic. The one character I truly enjoyed was Tiggy.  I didn’t know the boys well enough to have more than a cursory interest in their story’s outcome, and I was pretty sure what it would be anyway.

The writing, for me, was uninspired and at times, the dialogue seemed stilted and unnatural.

Grandma gives The Art of Hiding three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Art of Hiding will be released on August 22, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

The Best Kind of People

The Best Kind of People

The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall (Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

The missing husband with a deep, dark secret and a clueless wife has become a familiar trope in women’s contemporary fiction. (See The Art of Hiding by Amanda Prowse.)

Something terrible takes the husband out of the picture — be it death, a trip from which he never returns, or accusation of a heinous crime. The wife, accustomed to an idyllic life of upper class ease and opulence, is suddenly faced with harsh reality: she has been married for decades to a man she doesn’t really know. To make matters worse, their finances — of which she has always remained blissfully ignorant — are a mess. Her high-society friends turn their back. Now, fraught with anger and disillusionment, she must struggle to remake her life, come to terms with his deceptive behavior, and figure out why he did this to her and the kids. At the same time, she mourns his loss and must protect her children from the truth about their father so as not to taint his memory.

The Best Kind of People is just such a book. Joan is a trauma nurse with a long career in emergency medicine. Her husband, George, is a highly respected teacher who, years before, tackled a school shooter and kept tragedy from occurring at the elite private school where he teaches and his daughter is a junior. Now, however, he has been accused by students of inappropriate behavior and attempted rape. He’s arrested and imprisoned without bail, and, in an instant, he goes from town hero to villain. Neighbors and co-workers turn against Joan, her daughter, and her grown son. Her sister, Clara, from whom she has become estranged, comes from New York City to help, even though Clara has never been a fan of George. Joan soon learns that family money she thought she could fall back on in George’s absence is mysteriously missing from his personal account.

The story is told from the points of view of several key characters other than George, and it kept my attention from the get-go. Each character became a real person to me — realistically flawed, likeable, plausible. Their reactions to the charges against their husband/father/brother-in-law are believable and understandable. Their lives drastically change over the year it takes for George to come to trial — their personal relationships suffer, they do questionable things and make mistakes, they experience a range of evolving emotions. Through it all, even as more damning evidence surfaces, George swears he’s been set up, so an element of mystery remains — did he do it or didn’t he? I found my own feelings about the case changing over time. I knew how I wanted the trial to come out, and I kept reading, wanting to know the answer because I wanted to know how each family member would ultimately fare.

The ending, frankly, was a disappointment; it felt like the author took the easy way out.

Grandma gives The Best Kind of People three and a half stars. 3.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Best Kind of People will be released on September 19, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

 

Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Left Behind

Everything We Left Behind by Kerry Lonsdale (Suspense)

This is book two in a series that began with Everything We Keep. Unlike the first book, which was told from the perspective of Aimee, a young woman whose fiancé, James, was buried on what should have been their wedding day, this book is told from the perspectives of James and his alter-ego, Carlos, the personality who “replaced” James for six years due to a mental condition caused by trauma.

In book one, Aimee discovered that James was alive and well and living in Mexico as Carlos, with no memory of his pre-Carlos existence. In book two, the story-telling involves a re-emerged James in present day alternating with flashbacks to Carlos in the past and James in the past. Aimee makes a tiny appearance, but the focus is on present-day James’s angst over losing her, losing six years of his life, and gaining two traumatized young sons who suddenly have a stranger for a dad when James resurfaces and Carlos disappears. Can James be the father he should be to two children he doesn’t know? Should he try to win Aimee back after all this time, or should he let her be and try to make a new life for himself and his sons?

As in the first book, we have to contend with James’s highly unlikeable biological family, including his incarcerated brother, Phil, who is the product of incest between their mother and her brother. James’s abusive father has died, but we learn details about his nastiness, and we find out more about older brother Thomas who choreographed James’s disappearance and hid his survival from those who loved him. We also have Claire, the mother who treated James badly as a child, but once she learned of his existence as Carlos, traveled to Mexico to surreptitiously look after him as the benevolent neighbor he and his sons called Senora Carla. Now that he’s James again, how will that relationship work out?

Had I published a review for Everything We Keep, I would have given it three stars. At times it seemed too far-fetched to take seriously, plus I found myself annoyed by repetitive descriptions and phrasing; if Aimee dipped her chin one more time, I was going to scream. Everything We Left Behind has improved in those areas. However, the constant flipping back and forth between personalities and time periods became overwhelming so that I began skimming to move things along and get to the conclusion. The conclusion, as one might expect, left openings for book three, including the out-of-the-blue reappearance of a book one character who didn’t make sense then and made even less sense now.

As long as they don’t mind Aimee’s absence, readers who loved Everything We Keep will probably love this book, as it continues the saga of James/Carlos and his sister-in-law and answers the question of what happened to James six years before. Readers with no prior knowledge of James’s and Aimee’s situation, however, may have a harder time finding this tale compelling or suspenseful.

Grandma gives Everything We Left Behind three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hello, Sunshine

Hello Sunshine

Hello, Sunshine by Laura Dave   (Women’s Fiction)

Sunshine Mackenzie is a social media lifestyle guru whose fabricated life is coming apart. She has achieved and maintained her celebrity status by pulling the wool over the eyes of her adoring fans, and she is about to lose everything at the hands of an unknown truth-teller.

The directness with which Sunshine tells this very enjoyable story is ironic, considering the lies that have brought her to this point, and I quickly became her biggest fan, not for who she claimed to be but for who she must become — herself. What I appreciated most about this telling is how real it felt. No one is transformed overnight, and wronged friends and estranged family members don’t leap to forgive. We don’t know who has outed her, and there are lots of possibilities. And we don’t know who she will become next, because neither she nor the people around her are clichés.

The story moves right along, and the characters rise up off the page. I knew and understood her sister, I loved her niece, and I wanted to meet Chef Z for myself. I recognized the fair-weather friends, the co-workers who were quick to distance themselves, and the wronged individuals from her past who were reticent to trust her again. And I came to understand how someone could get so caught up in her own lies that she no longer knew who she was. Sunshine is the biggest victim of her own lies, and Laura Dave made me want to make sure that Sunshine would be okay.

Grandma gives Hello, Sunshine five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free advanced reader copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Hello, Sunshine will be released by Simon & Schuster on July 11, 2017, and is available for pre-order.

Making the Most of Your One Life: Guest Post by Pat Abercromby, author of “Just One Life”

The first thing about my life you might want to know is that I have been on the planet for seventy two years and hope to be around for at least another twenty years of active and healthy life.

I have been extraordinarily lucky as I have been able to pursue several varied, interesting and very fulfilling career pathways. These include medical research, journalism, recruiting agency business, holistic massage therapy, establishing a training school for teaching acupressure chair massage, setting up a First Aid training company and just recently starting up Wellbeing Direct with my business partner Davina. We have a team of therapists going into corporate companies offering chair massage treatments.

I have no intentions of retiring which I think helps you to forget the rapid passing of the years. Occasionally, when I wake up feeling a bit stiff  I do feel ‘finite’ then.  My weeks just fly in with a variety of activities. One day a week I visit my husband in his nursing home where he has been for just over two years. He had a massive stroke ten years ago and for the first eight years I was his full-time carer which was tough for both of us. Now he has dementia as well and needs residential nursing care. I suppose in some way, I want to claim those lost years back. Just One Life was written as a result of going to a creative writing class and being encouraged and inspired to expand my first 10,000 word effort into a novel. I have a non-fiction book and another novel in the pipeline. Maybe I will end up like Barbara Cartland still writing in my nineties, but not reclining on a chaise longue swathed in pink chiffon! I am more comfortable writing in a tracksuit and T shirt!

Every morning regardless of the weather, I walk Molly my little Schnauzer who is 14, for almost an hour in the nearby fields and woods. I still go to a creative writing class once a week as it keeps my ‘writing brain’ tuned up and I enjoy the company and stimulation of my fellow writers in the class. I belong to two book clubs so always have a couple of novels to read and discuss at our meetings (in the pub, very convivial). I am very blessed to have a few good friends living locally, so I usually meet up with one of other of them every week for a coffee and catch-up chat. Another old friend is in a local retirement home and I visit her once a week or take her out walking if the weather is fine. I have Glaucoma and had to give up driving about ten years ago, so I go everywhere by bus. My husband’s nursing home is two bus rides and a long uphill walk away. The bus pass is useful!

I treat a few private clients at home which is very fulfilling as they always leave feeling loose and relaxed, all the muscle tension eased out. The acupressure chair massage is a great treatment as it is done through clothes and only takes 20 minutes to do a full session which does not tire me out!

These are my own personal tips for making the most of what is left of my life. They work for me, but everyone is different of course.

Friendships are unbelievably precious, nurture them and be sure to let your friends know that you care about them. Keep in touch with your long distance friends and family, preferably by phone ( isn’t WhatsApp great!!) or if you must, by Facebook. Don’t get addicted to Facebook, it can be a terrible time waster watching videos people have posted of cute animal antics etc.

Laugh as much as you can, laughter releases wonderful endorphins in the brain (although so does eating chocolate!) Reminiscing with old friends on earlier funny experiences is always a good way to have a laugh. Shared laughter is the best kind)

I am a vegetarian because I don’t like the taste of meat or chicken (never have) but I do eat fish and lots of fruit and vegetables every day. My best kitchen accessories are my Nutribullet, my soup maker and my steamer.

I walk every day, often ride my bike and do pilates and yoga (I confess I have just started the latter two but already feeling the benefits)

Getting out in nature. Water, woods, trees, fields, mountains.  All uplifting. I went to the bluebell woods at Easter. Acres and acres of them. Absolutely stunning. Tending my garden gives me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction.

I am not lonely now living by myself. I have a lovely family, two daughters and grandchildren. Sleepovers for the grandchildren sometimes, love their company but nice to have the house quiet again when they leave.

I love classical music and go to concerts as often as I can with a friend. I usually have Classic FM on but still enjoy listening to some of the old pop favourites from my early years as well.

I try to be ‘a cup half full’ person and stay optimistic in spite of the personal and global challenges facing us these days.

I am saving (might take a while) for an overseas trip to America, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand to visit friends and family while I am still young enough and fit enough to travel. As I will be gone for a few months, I may have to wait until Molly, my 14 year old dog passes on. Not too sure what to do about my husband… but I can’t wait too long before I go, so I will have to risk it, knowing that my girls will take on the weekly visits for me.

PatAbercromby_AuthorPhotoAbout the author: Living in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Pat Abercromby has enjoyed a varied career – from recruitment consultant to journalist in Saudi Arabia and massage therapist – eventually setting up a training school for Seated Acupressure Massage. Today she continues to work within the field of corporate wellness with her business partner Davina Thomson with their joint company Wellbeing Direct. She also co-wrote and published Seated Acupressure Massage with Davina Thomson in 2000. In her spare time, Pat enjoys being an active member of her local creative writing group, classical music and the outdoors.

Just One LifeJust One Life

When you realise you have just one life left to live, how do you make peace with the mistakes of your past?

Fran should be looking back on her life with pride. She’s risen to the top of the job ladder, having left behind a council housing estate in post-war Glasgow, to forge a colourful, fulfilling career and enjoy all the trappings of success.

But instead, Fran is consumed by regret. A shocking revelation has cast her life, and her thirty-year marriage, asunder. She finds herself the full-time carer for her husband, a man she now accepts, she has never loved. The sacrifices she has made, the personal freedoms she has lost, have left Fran crushed. Her free-spirited friend Iona is her one salvation. Their friendship has survived the storms of conflict and loss since childhood, their deep affection for one another the only constant remaining in Fran’s life, a life she no longer recognises as her own.

Her husband’s new brush with death will give Fran the chance to reflect on what she has left, the choices she has made and the two men she has loved and lost.

Can Fran find a way through the ruins of her marriage and find inner peace, to make the most of what remains of her life’s journey?

Amazon UKhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Just-One-Life-Pat-Abercromby-ebook/dp/B06XXZ7BP7/

For our review of Just One Life go here.

 

Just One Life

Just One Life

Just One Life by Pat Abercromby

This was a difficult book to read, not because of the writing, but because of the subject matter. We follow Fran through roughly sixty years of her life, over half of it married to a man she never truly loves, a man for whom she settles because of his physical appeal but who lacks a sense of humor as well as a moral compass, is a poor communicator, and never provides the quality of companionship she craves. We watch her give up more than one satisfying career to live in places she doesn’t enjoy in order to accommodate her husband’s career, and we learn about the men she sleeps with and the ones she loves but cannot have. We know early on that she will become her husband’s reluctant caregiver after he has a debilitating stroke, and we experience her resentment about giving up all personal ambitions to take care of him in her old age. In short, we’re reading about the life of a woman who comes to regret how it all plays out. It’s not a very jolly topic.

We also follow, on the periphery, the story of her lifelong friend, Iona, who has issues of her own with the men in her life. We see Fran’s and Iona’s daughters grow up, and we learn about the difficulties and joys they bring and how the two women’s lives continue to intertwine. Because of the timespan to be covered, multiple years often pass in a single sentence, which can leave the reader feeling left in the dust. We know Fran well in some ways, but mostly we’re just voyeurs peeking through her windows, watching someone whose days and life are whizzing by without much detail, and we don’t feel particularly involved.

Without involvement, there’s little investment. Add to that the lack of any type of story arc, mystery, or real tension, and you have what is basically a human interest story. Upon reading the author’s guest post, I am guessing that this book is more autobiographical than not (emphasis on “guessing”), which would explain a lack of riveting plot points.

The writing is fine. The story has its interesting aspects. Would I have finished the book if I hadn’t promised to participate in this blog tour? I’m not sure.

Grandma gives Just One Life three stars. 3 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review and participation in the blog tour.

For our Guest Post from author Pat Abercromby, go here.