Alternate Side

Alternate Side

Alternate Side by Anna Quindlen (Literary Fiction/Women’s Contemporary Fiction)

Alternate Side is a character-driven slice-of-life story, the type at which Anna Quindlen excels. You get to know her people as though they were friends. As with most of us, their lives have moments of drama among mostly no-big-deal daily stuff, but because you know these people, you’re interested. If, perchance, you can identify with them and their problems, all the better.

Nora Nolan and her husband, Charlie, live in a closely knit New York City neighborhood of comfortably rich people with housekeepers and a shared handyman. They all know each other, socialize at catered neighborhood events, but are not quite friends. In other words, they don’t bare their hearts to one another. Still, they care about each other, and when something happens to one, the others come to help.

After nearly thirty years together, Nora and Charlie have grown apart. Their twins are graduating from college and moving on with their lives, leaving an empty nest. While Nora loves New York City life, Charlie wants to move to a warm climate where he can golf year-round. She has a job she enjoys; he’s not all that happy in his. Little things he does are starting to annoy her. He’s threatened by the possibility that she will take a new position with status greater than his. When an act of violence rocks the neighborhood, she and he see the incident very differently.

Having grown up in a friendly Midwestern neighborhood where block parties were common, I could identify with the measured camaraderie among neighbors. And being of a certain age, I could understand how Nora and Charlie felt. This story also deals with race relations, class privilege, and what are often referred to as first-world problems, yet refrains from passing judgment. If you are looking for fast-paced action , mystery, or romance, this book is not for you. But if you enjoy fine writing, Alternate Side is that.

Grandma gives Alternate Side five stars. 5 stars

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

Alternate Side will be released on March 20, 2018, and is available for pre-order.

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The Family Next Door

The Family Next Door

The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth (Women’s Fiction/Psychological Thriller)

This book involves five women who live in the upscale neighborhood known as Pleasant Court, where families mingle but also cherish and protect their privacy. Three women – Ange, Fran, and Essie – are married with young children. The new neighbor, Isabelle, is single and childless. Barbara is Essie’s single mom and grandmother to Essie’s little girls. All five women have their secrets and their frustrations, and we get to know them well as they take turns telling this story from their individual points of view.

Sally Hepworth (The Mother’s Promise) brings all of it together in an ending I didn’t see coming. Throughout the story, we’re aware of each woman’s struggles with motherhood, marriage, and men who disappoint in one way or another. We know about their psychological breakdowns, their mistakes, and what wears them out by the end of the day. We watch them grapple with personal demons that require difficult decisions. And running throughout is the question, who is the anonymous, mentally disturbed narrator who has taken someone else’s baby from the hospital?

All in all, it’s an interesting look at the face we put on for others and leaves you wondering what you don’t know about that nice family down the block.

Grandma gives The Family Next Door four stars. 4 stars

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

The Family Next Door will be released on March 6, 2018 and is available for pre-order.

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 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.