Category Archives: Contemporary

Review: People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper

Title: People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 305 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Everything was fine fourteen years after she left New York.

Until suddenly, one day, it wasn’t.

Emily Morris got her happily-ever-after earlier than most. Married at a young age to a man she loved passionately, she was building the life she always wanted. But when enormous stress threatened her marriage, Emily made some rash decisions. That’s when she fell in love with someone else. That’s when she got pregnant.

Resolved to tell her husband of the affair and to leave him for the father of her child, Emily’s plans are thwarted when the world is suddenly split open on 9/11. It’s amid terrible tragedy that she finds her freedom, as she leaves New York City to start a new life. It’s not easy, but Emily—now Connie Prynneforges a new happily-ever-after in California. But when a life-threatening diagnosis upends her life, she is forced to rethink her life for the good of her thirteen-year-old daughter.

A riveting debut in which a woman must confront her own past in order to secure the future of her daughter, People Who Knew Me asks: “What would you do?”

Review:

People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper is a captivating novel about a woman who must face the mistakes from her past after receiving an unexpected diagnosis.

No one is more surprised than Emily (aka Connie) when she falls in love with Drew at first sight.  The college sweethearts marry young and although both plan to continue on to graduate school, Emily goes to work right away while Drew continues his education and later opens a restaurant that soon goes bankrupt.  The family’s sole breadwinner, Emily is waiting for Drew to begin working when his mother’s health worsens and he must become her caretaker.  Emily’s resentment continues to grow as she tries to be understanding but after reconnecting with old college friend Gabe Walters, she makes one bad decision after another.  When her world is shattered on 9/11, Emily uses the tragedy to leave New York and her marriage behind but fourteen years later, she must confront the past she has tried so hard to forget.

Emily/Connie is a surprisingly likable and sympathetic character despite her poor choices.  Deeply in love with Drew, her marriage slowly crumbles under the stress of financial concerns, her husband’s drinking and her mother-in-law’s health problems.  As she and Drew drift apart both emotionally and physically, she grows more and more resentful of the situation and it is only a matter of time before she acts on her attraction to Gabe.  A shocking discovery gives her the impetus to finally break free from her unhappy marriage, but before Emily can act on her decision, the events of 9/11 forever change her life.

Following 9/11, Emily reinvents herself as Connie and moves to California where she leads a solitary life as a single mom.  Daughter Claire is refreshingly happy and well-adjusted and even after Connie receives a distressing diagnosis, mom and daughter remain close.  While Connie is optimistic about the final outcome of her treatment, she is also realistic and she knows it is only a matter of time before she must be honest with Claire about her past.  Claire is completely unprepared for her mother’s shocking revelations and their once close relationship is threatened in the aftermath of Connie’s confession.  With her future so uncertain, Connie has no choice but to face her mistakes for Claire’s sake.

Seamlessly moving between past and present, People Who Knew Me is a compelling novel that is impossible to put down.  The characters are fully developed with all too real flaws and imperfections.  While the novel is well-written with a unique storyline, the ending is rather abrupt and a little frustrating since not all of the loose ends are completely wrapped up.  All in all a solid debut from Kim Hooper that I truly enjoyed and highly recommend.

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Filed under Contemporary, Kim Hooper, People Who Knew Me, Rated B, Review, Women's Fiction

Review: She Poured Out Her Heart by Jean Thompson

Title: She Poured Out Her Heart by Jean Thompson
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Length: 426 pages
Book Rating: C+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Penguin’s First to Read Program

Summary:

Tracing the complicated friendship of two very different women who meet in college, She Poured Out Her Heart is a novel of remarkable psychological suspense, crafted by National Book Award finalist Jean Thompson.

The night that Jane and Bonnie meet on a college campus sets them on paths forever entwined. Bonnie, the wild and experimental one, always up for anything, has spent the past two decades bouncing between ill-fated relationships, while Jane’s seemingly perfect life, perfect husband, and perfect children have all but materialized out of a fantasy. But these appearances contradict the quiet, inescapable doubt Jane feels about her life. One night, in the middle of her own Christmas party, she steps outside into the snow, removes her clothing and shoes, and lies down in the backyard. When she is discovered, nothing is the same for anyone. As Jane begins to have visions and retreat into a private inner world, Bonnie finds herself drawn inevitably into an affair with Jane’s husband.

Thompson’s mastery of complex emotion begets a novel of desire and the nature of love—who we love, how we’re loved, and, most important, that we reach urgently and always for a higher love, regardless of our circumstances. She Poured Out Her Heart is a finely wrought, haunting story of female friendship and deception, and the distance in between.

Review:

In She Poured Out Her Heart, Jean Thompson explores the intricate bonds of friendships.

Bonnie Abrams and Jane Nicholson have been friends since college and although their friendship has had its share of ups and downs, the two women still remain close nearly two decades later.  After college, their lives go in completely different directions: Jane is married to Eric, a cardiologist, and she is a stay at home mom to their two kids whereas Bonnie has achieved professional success but continues her lifelong pattern of sleeping with unavailable men. Jane is rather shy and unable to give voice to her growing unhappiness while Bonnie is self-confident and quite outgoing.  When life gets too difficult for Jane to deal with, she welcomes the “white” space she disappears into and after one of these incidents lands her in the hospital, Eric and Bonnie find comfort in one another’s arms. When Jane discovers the affair, neither Bonnie nor Eric is prepared for her rather unconventional reaction.

Jane is content to coast through life doing what is expected of her. She is not especially passionate about Eric and she is often overwhelmed by the demands of her children.  Jane downplays Eric’s suggestion she get professional help for her depression  but to avoid conflict, she agrees to see a therapist.  Jane makes an attempt to describe what she is experiencing to her doctor, but since she is not completely honest, she does not receive adequate treatment.  Fast forward a few years and Jane’s coping mechanism takes a dangerous turn and leaves no one in doubt about her fragile mental state.

Although Bonnie puts a positive spin on her dating life, she is growing increasingly unhappy with her single status.  She continually chooses emotionally unavailable men or men with commitment issues, but she cannot seem to break free from this unhealthy pattern.  It takes Bonnie a long time to understand what motivates these poor choices but by the time she figures this out, she is already emotionally invested in her relationship with Eric.  It is not until Jane makes an extremely out of character decision that Bonnie re-evaluates her life but will she truly commit to the changes she has decided to make?

None of the relationships or characters in She Poured Out Her Heart are particularly healthy or happy.  Bonnie, Jane and Eric are deeply flawed and they each have different coping mechanisms for dealing with their problems.  Eric hides behind work, Bonnie drinks too much and Jane is never fully invested in any part of her life.  Jean Thompson does a wonderful job keeping the plot realistic and unique but there is little character growth or real progress overcoming their issues. Despite the novel’s surprisingly hopeful conclusion, the lack of resolution with any of the storylines is extremely frustrating.

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Filed under Blue Rider Press, Contemporary, Jean Thompson, Literary Fiction, Rated C+, Review, She Poured Out Her Heart

Review: A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah

Title: A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 464 pages
Book Rating: C

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

Pulled into a deadly game of deception, secrets, and lies, a woman must find the truth in order to defeat a mysterious opponent, protect her daughter, and save her own life in this dazzling standalone psychological thriller with an unforgettable ending from the New York Times bestselling author of Woman with a Secret and The Monogram Murders.

You thought you knew who you were. A stranger knows better.

You’ve left the city—and the career that nearly destroyed you—for a fresh start on the coast. But trouble begins when your daughter withdraws, after her new best friend, George, is unfairly expelled from school.

You beg the principal to reconsider, only to be told that George hasn’t been expelled. Because there is, and was, no George.

Who is lying? Who is real? Who is in danger? Who is in control? As you search for answers, the anonymous calls begin—a stranger, who insists that you and she share a traumatic past and a guilty secret. And then the caller threatens your life. . . .

This is Justine’s story. This is Justine’s family. This is Justine’s game. But it could be yours.

Review:

A Game for All the Family by Sophie Hannah is a perplexing mystery within a mystery.   Following their move from London to the bucolic countryside, Justine Merrison begins getting a series threatening phone calls she believes might be tied to her fourteen year old daughter Ellen’s writing project.

Having recently quit her stressful job in television, Justine is looking forward to doing Nothing.  The first few months of life in their new house are idyllic but the first disquieting phone calls occurs on the same day she finds out Ellen is upset about her friend George’s expulsion from school.  When Justine tries to intervene on George’s behalf, she is stunned to learn there is no George so therefore, there was no expulsion.  Despite a few doubts, Justine believes Ellen’s story and she is determined to get to the bottom of what happened and find out why the school is lying to her.  At the same time, she continues receiving telephone calls that are increasingly sinister.  She is also growing concerned about Ellen’s writing project about a murder mystery that appears to be based on real life events but her search for more information leads to one dead end after another.  Believing all of these events are somehow linked, Justine begins her own investigation but will she uncover the truth before it is too late?

The premise of A Game for All the Family is certainly unique but the execution of the story falls a little flat.  The chapters alternate between the present day events and Ellen’s story and while, initially both story arcs are interesting, there is little progression in either storyline.  The dual storylines are written in two distinct voices but Ellen’s murder mystery is so incredibly implausible that it eventually detracts from the main storyline.  With each incredulous plot twist, the novel becomes a convoluted mess of highly improbable coincidences.

All in all, this latest release by Sophie Hannah’s is an entertaining but overly long and somewhat bizarre mystery that readers will have to suspend disbelief to enjoy.

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Filed under A Game for All the Family, Contemporary, Mystery, Rated C, Review, Sophie Hannah, suspense, William Morrow

Review: When We Were Sisters by Emilie Richards

Title: When We Were Sisters by Emilie Richards
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Length: 496 pages
Book Rating: A+ & A Recommended Read

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

Love and loyalty made them sisters. Secrets could still destroy them.

As children in foster care, Cecilia and Robin vowed they would be the sisters each had never had. Now superstar singer-songwriter Cecilia lives life on the edge, but when Robin is nearly killed in an accident, Cecilia drops everything to be with her.

Robin set aside her career as a successful photojournalist to create the loving family she always yearned for. But gazing through a wide-angle lens at both past and future, she sees that her marriage is disintegrating. Her attorney husband is rarely home. She and the children need Kris’s love and attention, but does Kris need them?

When Cecilia asks Robin to be the still photographer for a documentary on foster care, Robin agrees, even though Kris will be forced to take charge for the months she’s away. She gambles that he’ll prove to them both that their children—and their marriage—are a priority in his life.

Cecilia herself needs more than time with her sister. A lifetime of lies has finally caught up with her. She wants a chance to tell the real story of their childhood and free herself from the nightmares that still haunt her.

As the documentary unfolds, memories will be tested and the meaning of family redefined, but the love two young girls forged into bonds of sisterhood will help them move forward as the women they were always meant to be.

Review:

When We Were Sisters by Emilie Richards is a heartrending, poignant and healing novel that highlights both the positive and negative aspects of the foster care system. This riveting story about two foster sisters, Robin Lenhart and Cecelia, is a sensitive and realistic depiction of a system that is oftentimes woefully overburdened and underfunded.  And most heartbreaking is the all too real fact that the children who end up in foster care through no fault of their own are the ones who pay the highest price when the system fails to adequately protect them.

Cecelia aka CeCe and Robin grew up together as foster children who are consider themselves sisters of the heart. As adults, their lives took them in very different directions but there is absolutely nothing that can destroy the bond they forged as kids.  While CeCe is a wildly famous and popular singer/songwriter, Robin put her career as a photojournalist on hold to stay at home with her two children, Nik and Pet.  Although still deeply in love with her lawyer husband Kris, Robin is slowly realizing that everyone she knows seems to be moving on with their lives while hers remains exactly the same.  After surviving a car accident that took the life of one of her best friends, Robin accepts CeCe’s offer to become the photographer for a documentary about foster care.  While it is a difficult yet cathartic journey for both women, will long held secrets and long forgotten memories destroy the lives they have worked so hard to build?

Robin has always found it difficult to give voice to her dissatisfaction but in the aftermath of the car accident, she is much more open and honest about her discontent.  She takes full responsibility for letting Kris take advantage of her but she is no longer willing to continue on their current path.  His long hours and heavy workload mean little time spent together as a family and Robin is tired of  allowing him to put his career first.  Kris is not at all happy about her decision to accompany CeCe but Robin refuses to change her mind and their once close marriage slowly begins to crumble under the weight of his anger and inability to see things from her perspective.

CeCe is a strong willed survivor who tackles life on her own terms.  She lets nothing and no one stand in her way as she sets about accomplishing her goals.  Although she has achieved success beyond her wildest dreams, CeCe is still haunted by the events of her childhood and she hopes that facing her past will finally put her demons to rest.  At long last ready to face her worst memories, CeCe jumps headlong into the foster care documentary but as she soon discovers, nothing can prepare them for the sheer terror awaiting them as they confront the horror they experienced at one of the hands of one of their foster families.

CeCe and Robin’s reasons for participating in the documentary are quite different yet this decision serves as a catalyst for change in both of their lives.  Robin’s marriage is in crisis but for the first time, she is finally putting her needs first despite her discomfort.  She is also taking an important step once she begins talking about her problems instead of keeping silent.  CeCe at long last reveals the darkest parts of herself and her past and although she continues to try to maintain an emotional distance from everyone but Robin, true healing does not begin until she takes a chance on love.

Despite its sometimes dark and gritty subject matter, When We Were Sisters is surprisingly uplifting and hopeful. While Robin and CeCe experienced traumatic life altering events, they also had positive experiences with foster parents and family members who truly loved them.  Emilie Richards presents a fair and balanced perspective of both the good and bad elements of the foster care system.  A beautifully rendered and impeccably researched story that has a realistic storyline that does not shy away from difficult or sensitive topics, this incredibly moving novel is an emotional and healing journey that will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

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Filed under Contemporary, Emilie Richards, Harlequin, Literary Fiction, Mira, Rated A+, Recommended Read, Review, When We Were Sisters

Review: Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica

Title: Don’t You Cry by Mary Kubica
Publisher: MIRA
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley

Summary:

New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl and Pretty Baby, Mary Kubica returns with an electrifying and addictive tale of deceit and obsession.

In downtown Chicago, a young woman named Esther Vaughan disappears from her apartment without a trace. A haunting letter addressed to My Dearest is found among her possessions, leaving her friend and roommate Quinn Collins to wonder where Esther is and whether or not she’s the person Quinn thought she knew.

Meanwhile, in a small Michigan harbor town an hour outside Chicago, a mysterious woman appears in the quiet coffee shop where eighteen-year-old Alex Gallo works as a dishwasher. He is immediately drawn to her charm and beauty, but what starts as an innocent crush quickly spirals into something far more dark and sinister than he ever expected.

As Quinn searches for answers about Esther, and Alex is drawn further under the stranger’s spell, master of suspense Mary Kubica takes readers on a taut and twisted thrill ride that builds to a stunning conclusion and shows that no matter how fast and far we run, the past always catches up with us in the end.

Review:

Don’t You Cry is another perplexing mystery by Mary Kubica.  Following the disappearance of her seemingly perfect roommate Esther Vaughan, Quinn Collins uncovers some very troubling information about her missing friend.  In a sleepy lakeside town about an hour from Chicago, eighteen year old Alex Alex Gallo is intrigued by a mysterious stranger whom he nicknames Pearl.  What, if anything,  could be the correlation between these two seemingly unrelated events?

Quinn really does not know what to think when she wakes up and discovers her über responsible roommate has vanished without a trace.  Trying to respect Esther’s privacy, she gives her bedroom a cursory examination but outside of the open bedroom window, nothing seems out of place. She becomes more alarmed when she discovers Esther’s cell phone is still in the apartment and a couple of phone calls she answers are definitely worrisome.  Finally deciding to report the disappearance to the police, the operator’s lack of concern temporarily allays her fears.  But as the days pass without Esther returning home, Quinn becomes alarmed that her friend has met with foul play.  However, a few unexpected discoveries seem to point in another direction but Quinn’s overactive imagination makes it impossible for her to stop searching for answers.

Alex’s curiosity about Pearl is piqued right from his first glimpse of her.  Drawn to ethereal beauty, he immediately begins trying to guess why she keeps returning to the coffee shop where he works as a dishwasher.  As their paths continue to cross, Alex tries to help her as much as he can but he grows concerned by her inexplicable behavior.  After witnessing her bewildering actions early one morning, he decides to uncover the truth about a long ago event that locals continue to gossip about.  Stunned by his discovery, Alex stumbles into a dark and twisted situation that he desperately tries to defuse before it ends in tragedy.

Don’t You Cry is a suspense-laden novel that unfolds at a leisurely pace.  Mary Kubica skillfully weaves the two storylines into a riveting mystery that is impossible to put down.  While some of the plot is easy to figure out, there are plenty of unexpected twists and turns that will leave readers guessing until the novel’s very dramatic conclusion.   All in all, a very twisty, turny mystery that fans of genre are sure to love.

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Filed under Contemporary, Don't You Cry, Harlequin, Mary Kubica, Mira, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, suspense

Review: Love of the Game by Lori Wilde

Title: Love of the Game by Lori Wilde
Stardust, Texas Series Book Three
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Length: 384 pages
Book Rating: B

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss

Summary:

A sexy sports superstar discovers his body isn’t the only thing that needs healing in this newest Stardust, Texas novel from New York Times bestselling author Lori Wilde.

With major league good looks and talent, Dallas Gunslingers relief pitcher Axel Richmond was living the good life. Even if the roar of the crowd could never distract him from the loss of his young son. But now with an injured shoulder and his career on the line, Axel is stuck recuperating at a ranch in Stardust, Texas . . . striking out only with his gorgeous physical therapist.

Kasha Carlyle has one week to get Axel back in action or she can kiss her much-needed job with the Gunslingers goodbye. And any chance to seek custody of the orphaned half-sister she never knew existed. She quickly learns that Axel’s guarded heart also needs healing . . . requiring all kinds of sneaky plays and sexy moves in extra innings.

Review:

The third installment in Lori Wilde’s Stardust, TX series, Love of the Game is an endearing romance between an injured baseball player and his physical therapist.  With strong professional ethics, plenty of emotional baggage and conflicting priorities, there are numerous obstacles Axel Richmond and Kasha Carlyle must overcome on the road to happily ever after.

Kasha has a lot riding on her new job with the Dallas Gunslingers so she works hard to ensure Axel recovers from a possible career ending shoulder injury.  Having recently discovered she has an adult biological half-sister with Down Syndrome, she is doing everything possible to become Emma’s legal guardian. Kasha was adopted as young child after a family tragedy and she is shocked by her strong emotional connection to her sister.  Equally stunning is her intense and immediate attraction to Axel and even if her professional relationship with him precludes any type a personal relationship, her need for control would never allow her to give in to her passion for him.  Having experienced firsthand the devastating effects of out of control passion, Kasha keeps a tight rein on her emotions and desires.

Axel cannot imagine life without baseball so he is extremely focused on overcoming his injury.  Although initially skeptical of Kasha’s treatment plan, he wants to avoid surgery so he reluctantly follows her instructions.  Axel is extremely driven and when finds himself at loose ends, he is forced to revisit the very painful memories of the devastating loss of his young son.  He is taken off guard by his growing feelings for Kasha but he is willing to explore the possibility of a future with her but she is incredibly resistant to the idea.  Having finally breached her formidable defenses,  Axel is very conflicted when his long held dream is within reach.

The romance element of the storyline is leisurely paced since Kasha has valid reasons to keep their interactions strictly on a professional level.  Despite her efforts to maintain an emotional distance, she and Axel genuinely like and respect one another and friendship naturally grows between them throughout the course of Axel’s treatment.  Underlying all of their interactions is a simmering sexual tension that they both try to ignore, but once Kasha decides she has to alter some of her plans regarding Emma, they decide to act on their desire.  Not too long after their relationship turns to romance, Axel is faced with a decision that makes Kasha rethink their future together.  Will Kasha stop letting the events from her past prevent her from finding happiness?

Love of the Game is an emotional, passion-filled addition to Lori Wilde’s delightfully charming Stardust, TX series.  Each of the characters is superbly developed with believable issues to overcome.  The storyline is engaging with just a touch of whimsy that perfectly balances the novel’s more serious undertones.  It is a heartfelt and beautifully rendered love story that will appeal to old and fans of this wonderful series.

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Filed under Avon, Contemporary, Lori Wilde, Love of the Game, Rated B, Review, Romance, Stardust Texas Series