Book Reviews

Book Review: The Marriage Secret, by Carey Baldwin

The Marriage Secret,

by Carey Baldwin

Publication: Bookouture; February 11, 2022

About:

He married me despite my darkest secret. But am I safe now that I know his?

From the outside, my marriage to Zach was perfect: dream home, a perfect baby girl and passionate, all-consuming love. When we met, I confessed my darkest secret to him and he never judged me for it. Instead, he vowed to always protect me whatever the cost.

But as I cradle my gorgeous baby, I have to accept that the husband who used to be my everything, has changed. At first it was little things: expecting me to keep to a strict schedule, picking out my clothes for me. Now, he controls every aspect of my life: from how much money I have, to when I leave the house and who I can see.

One fateful night, a young woman is found murdered and Zach is a potential suspect. Turning towards me, a look of warmth returning to his eyes, he swears he’s innocent, and I realize there is only one solution. If I agree to be his alibi, he will keep my secret and our daughter can grow up in a loving home. In that moment, I do what any faithful wife would do: I stand by him.

But I know deep down, only one of us will make it out of this marriage alive.

A completely unputdownable and twist-filled psychological thriller from USA Today bestselling author Carey Baldwin. Fans of The Wife Between Us, The Marriage and Gone Girl will be totally addicted to The Marriage Secret.

*My Review*

I have been sort of disappointed in thrillers lately, but The Marriage Secret was a page-turner for me and finally, I found a thriller with the surprising twists I have been looking for. Zach and Holly have a picture-perfect marriage and are getting reading for the birth of their daughter, Jolene. But instead of everything being all rainbows and butterflies, Zach is controlling and abusive – mentally and financially. Why does Holly stick it out? The day they were married she told Zach her “horrible secret” and he is holding that and custody of their newborn daughter over her head.

I’m going to start with my criticism, but there isn’t much. Zach had no chance of mental and emotional health as an adult because of the obsessive spoiling by his mother Frances. Good Lord woman, let the child live. Secondly, I was a bit thrown by the amount of money being tossed around in this book. I have known some ob/gyns throughout my lifetime and have never known any that can splurge on an $11,000 vase one day and a $30,000 wardrobe the next. But, oh well. My biggest criticism, however, is the gaslighting plot, especially with a new mother. Haven’t we seen this enough over the past few years? I get it’s always going to be present in thrillers to an extent because the main character has to have doubt, the reader needs doubt, and so on. But the non-stop gaslighting of the new moms has been overused.

What I loved about this novel is for the first time in forever, I was actually surprised by a twist! I had my mind made up for most of the novel and then it reached a point where I was starting to wonder about another character, and then bam, there it was! For months I have felt like I knew “whodunnit” about 30% into a novel so thank you Carey Baldwin for finally throwing some twists in! I also applaud Holly’s POV which made it seem that the entire universe was out to get her, as well as, the wonderful development of Zach’s character making it so easy and wonderful to absolutely despise him.

The Marriage Secret is a delicious thriller that you will not want to put down. There are certainly some expected things that come along, but this one truly surprised me and kept me on the edge of my seat.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Bookouture for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion!

Pre-Order The Marriage Secret on Amazon!

Book Blitz, Book Reviews

Release Blitz & Review: Make Me Whole (Oil Barrons #1), by Marie Johnston

RELEASE BLITZ
Title: Make Me Whole
Series: Oil Barrons #1
Author: Marie Johnston
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: January 18, 2022
BLURB

I had a perfect life. Schoolteacher. Married to my high school sweetheart. Little starter house that we called charming but was really just old. All I needed was the two-point-five kids and I’d be living my perfect dream. Then my husband died.

After the funeral, I had a breakdown that lasted for a month…or twelve. But now I’m reemerging, healing, finding my way. It’s time to learn who I am now, and whether or not I can fix a leaky sink. And by my side, the entire time, is my husband’s best friend, Liam. The single dad knows a thing or two about personal struggles, and about how to replace faucets.

With Liam, I feel alive again. Confident. Capable. Liam has become my best friend too. Except if my parents, my in-laws, and the rest of the town had any say, I’d stay far away from him and his bad boy reputation.

How do I admit to them what’s so hard to admit to myself? That I’m starting to look at him like he’s more than a friend. That the heat in his eyes when he looks at me is far beyond friendly. That like it or not, Liam makes me feel whole again.

**My Review**

This was my first time reading Marie Johnston and I found myself quickly drawn into this widow/best friend romance. Kennedy is still grieving the loss of her husband a few years back and his best friend/cousin Liam still constantly checks on and offers support to Kennedy. Liam is considered the black sheep of their small town where Kennedy has always been spoiled and honestly, babied, by her over-protective mother and her in-laws. When they start noticing new feelings for one another, everyone is against it, making them choose between each other or keeping the peace in their small town.

First, I enjoyed the plot because it didn’t feel as if it were something I have already read a million times. I also really appreciated the author’s character development, making me truly love Liam and truly hate Kennedy’s in-laws, Liam’s father, and often, Kennedy’s mother.

What didn’t work for me was struggling to believe some of the things that occurred, such as Kennedy losing her job. People lose loved ones every day and I realize that everyone deals with grief differently, but I felt like this was a stretch. Or she needed to be hospitalized for a while. Either way, it was a bit much. Then there was Liam’s Dad’s hatred towards him and “control” of the town. That part also felt a bit overdone and I found myself rolling my eyes several times.

Anyway, Make Me Whole is a solid romance that will leave you content and with a happy heart. This is a slow-burn romance, however, so this may not be for you if you prefer quick/insta-love romances!

*Thanks to Give Me Books for providing a copy of this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

GOODREADS LINK: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59755256-make-me-whole

PURCHASE LINKS

US: https://amzn.to/3qu4ots
UK: https://amzn.to/3JotFOk
CA: https://amzn.to/3esIjG0
AU: https://amzn.to/3mEHZZ9
B&N: https://bit.ly/3sIWT4u
Kobo: https://bit.ly/32CgDfc
Apple Books: https://apple.co/32wjZ3F
Google Play: https://bit.ly/32wJ7Hp

COMING SOON

#2 Make Me Shiver – Releasing May 17

US: https://amzn.to/3FzDg2h
UK: https://amzn.to/3qupmZh
CA: https://amzn.to/3pz3LzC
AU: https://amzn.to/3mZpBdZ
Apple Books: https://apple.co/3JnpthE

AUTHOR BIO

Marie Johnston writes paranormal and contemporary romance. She also works as a medical laboratory scientist and has worked as a public health microbiologist. Depending on the situation, she can be oddly unconcerned about germs or weirdly phobic. Marie’s been a volunteer EMT, a college instructor, a security guard, a phlebotomist, a hotel clerk, and a coffee pourer in a bingo hall. All fodder for a writer!! She has a husband, four kids, and even more cats.

AUTHOR LINKS

Website: https://www.mariejohnstonwriter.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mjohnstonwriter
Facebook: http://facebook.com/mjohnstonwriter
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mariejohnstonwriter
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/marie-johnston
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Marie-Johnston/e/B00R6SC79Q
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/11248716.Marie_Johnston

Book Reviews

Book Review: Unmissing, by Minka Kent

Unmissing, by Minka Kent

Publication: Thomas & Mercer; February 15, 2022

About:

A return from the past knocks a family dangerously off-balance in a novel of spiraling suspense by Washington Post and Wall Street Journal bestselling author Minka Kent.

Merritt Coletto and her husband, Luca, have the life they dreamed of: a coastal home, a promising future, and a growing family. That dream ends with a late-night knock on the door.

Weak, broken, and emaciated, it’s Luca’s first wife, Lydia. Missing for ten years, presumed dead, and very much alive, she has quite a story. Her kidnapping. A torturous confinement that should’ve ended with her dead. And finally, escape. Racked with guilt over the beautiful life they’ve built, Merritt and Luca agree to help get Lydia back on her feet—it’s the least they can do.

But the more enmeshed Lydia becomes in Merritt’s family, the more questions Merritt has. What is it about Lydia that’s especially unnerving? Why hasn’t she gone to the police with her harrowing tale? What does she really want of them? The answers, when they come, are terrifying.

Because Lydia isn’t the only one with secrets.

*My Review*

It’s been a while since I have read anything by Minka Kent and this did not disappoint! Merritt Coletto is living a dream life with her husband Luca, their young daughter Elsie, and a baby boy on the way. Then one night while Luca is out of town, a woman shows up on her doorstep claiming to be Luca’s first wife Lydia, who vanished ten years earlier and was later declared dead. Merritt, being the sweet and proper wife that she is, tries to befriend Lydia and help her all while fearing that Lydia is trying to destroy her marriage. Lucas basically does nothing, and Lydia starts seeming a little sinister.

This was so good! Unmissing had all the mystery/thriller elements that I love including unreliable narrators, plenty of seeds of doubt planted, and a roller coaster’s worth of twists and turns. Minka Kent has once again done a beautiful job of leading my mind in one direction only to shock the hell out of me further down the road (thank you very much). The characterization of both Merritt and Lydia was incredible, painting very different pictures of them from the beginning to end. I did feel that Luca’s characterization fell a little flat though. Maybe his POV could have been added to Merritt and Lydia’s to give the reader more insight into his thoughts and motivations? The only character that I struggled with was Delphine, finding her openness and kindness a bit too forthcoming, but it certainly didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the novel.

Although I think I could discuss this book for hours, that is about all I can say without spoilers. Unmissing is a mystery/suspense thriller that I highly recommend. It has all of the wonderful tidbits suspense thriller fans love, an imaginative plot, and well-developed characters. This was absolutely a 5-star read for me.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Thomas and Mercer for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Pre-Order Unmissing on Amazon!

Book Reviews

Book Review: Here For You, by Nora Valters

Here For You, by Nora Valters

Publication: Inkubator Books; January 9, 2022

About:

A fresh start… or a living hell?

Jess’s life is back on track again: the messy divorce, bitter inheritance feud, and terrifying home invasion are well and truly behind her.

After two years abroad, she is excited for a new beginning in a sleepy English seaside town where nobody knows her.

So when Jess is attacked in the street, she thinks it’s rotten luck – her troubles are firmly in the past, after all. But, as more creepy things start to happen, she becomes convinced she’s being targeted.

As the frightening events escalate, Jess is certain someone she thought she’d left behind has finally caught up with her – and they want revenge. But who? And just how far will they go to push her over the edge and into oblivion?

**My Review**

This novel begins with Jess in a new town at a new shared co-working space awkwardly introducing herself to everyone during one of their Friday night socials. As she nurses her beer, she looks around the room trying to figure out who to socialize with but is quickly saved when sweet, bubbly Ashley comes over to introduce herself. Later, the two women are drunkenly walking home, go their separate ways, and Jess is attacked. Who comes to her rescue? Ashley, of course. And the rest of the book is predictable as hell from there forward.

The main premise to this novel is the question – is Jess losing her mind or is she being gaslighted by literally everyone else in her life? Jess is a very unreliable narrator because she completely lacks any self-esteem or confidence, only shares tiny bits of her past, and later her recollections of the past don’t match those of others. So who do you believe?

Some positives of the book are the author’s character development and imagery. The way she described each character’s expression, tones, and even eye movements made the characters leap off the page. I also loved the setting and descriptions of the town down to the arcade and the yummy food Jess and Ashley would get while out and about having fun.

However, the overall novel was just a complete miss for me because it was so incredibly predictable. From about 10% in, I realized what was going on. Yes, I had to build on it as the novel progressed, but there was literally only 1 surprise throughout the novel and it was so silly and out of left field that it wasn’t an enjoyable surprise. I’m not sure what could have been better because this plot seems overdone anyway, but this lacked all of the things I love about thrillers – anticipation, surprise, questions, and twists.

I will certainly give this author another try because there were several things I enjoyed about her writing, however, Here For You is not a book that I would recommend.

*Thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Reviews

Book Review: Secrets of Our House, by Rea Frey

Secrets of Our House,

by Rea Frey

Publication: St. Martin’s Griffin; February 8, 2022

About: A thrilling domestic drama set against the power of the wilderness, Rea Frey’s Secrets of Our House is a deeply-felt novel of long-held secrets and the strength of family.

Desi is the mastermind behind her dream getaway house. Nestled high into the mountains of North Carolina, it is a sleek place, a luxurious place, a dark place.

A place full of secrets.

Secrets about the man she longs for, a man who is not her husband. Secrets about the roots of her family that must never, ever, see the light of day. When Desi and her family arrive from Chicago to spend the summer in the mountains, the seeds for the tumultuous months to follow are planted—her marriage on the rocks, not knowing which way they’ll go. Her seventeen year-old daughter Jules, falling in love for the first time with a local boy—and forging a new path that will take her to uncharted places. And Carter—a man Desi knew long ago, before she expunged him from her life for good.

All hurtling toward events none of them can undo.

Engaging, propulsive, and with a dramatic, heart-pounding final act, Secrets of Our House is a dazzling novel, richly-drawn, that shows no matter how hard outside forces may shake you, the bonds of family are stronger than the harshest winds.

**My Review**

A few weeks ago I spent much too long browsing NetGalley and ended up with a huge book haul. One of my latest downloads is Secrets of Our House, by Rea Frey. On NetGalley, this is listed under Mystery & Thrillers and Women’s Fiction, but I would just characterize this as Women’s Fiction (although there are some crazy scenes that will make your heart race). Anyway, this is about a couple, Peter and Desi, and their seventeen-year-old daughter, Jules, who are spending the summer at their amazing and incredible mountain home, The Black House. Peter and Desi have been married for twenty years and are miserable with one another, considering the summer as one last shot at their marriage. Jules is planning to start Columbia in the fall, however, she’s never felt more at home in River Falls, which is also home to the boy she is falling in love with. Other characters along the way are Desi’s freeloading brother, Tommy, and Carter, who served in the military with Tommy and Peter but is also Desi’s first love. So, a lot going on here!

First of all, Desi is an extremely unlikeable character, so prepare yourself. She is one of the most selfish characters I have encountered while reading, yet at times I felt bad for her and really wanted her to be happy. She spends most of the novel obsessing about Carter, whom she hasn’t been with in decades, while also whining and pouting because her marriage is failing. Pick a team woman! Peter is so grumpy and quiet, I don’t feel like I even got to know his character. Then there was Tommy just barging in on their summer vacation and taking up residence in their house, reminding me of cousin Eddie from National Lampoons. But the star of the novel is Jules.

Jules is getting ready to start her adult life, falling in love for the first time, and learning who she really is and wants to be. Her story is the meat of this novel and quite honestly, the main thing that kept me reading. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved this novel, but without Jules, it would have been depressing and uninteresting at best. I loved everything about her and Will and was cheering for them from beginning to end. I must admit though that there were some moments involving Jules that were a bit too far-fetched for me personally, nevertheless, I loved her character.

Overall, I found this to be a page-turner. Frey painted a perfect picture of a broken and lonely marriage, the toll it takes on the entire family, and the enormous stress of changing family dynamics. With the exception of Peter, I applaud the character development. The plot was unique and had some nice surprises sprinkled throughout. This is one of those books that I curled up with a blanket on a cold day and knocked it out in just a few hours – it was that good. I highly recommend this to women’s fiction fans that like a tiny bit of thriller mixed in.

*Thanks to St. Martin’s Griffin and Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion!

Pre-Order Secrets of Our House on Amazon!

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Ones We Keep, by Bobbie Jean Huff

The Ones We Keep,

by Bobbie Jean Huff

Publication: Sourcebooks Landmark; January 18, 2022

About:

An emotional debut for fans of Elizabeth Strout and Diane Chamberlain, The Ones We Keep follows the splintered lives of four family members in the years following an unthinkable tragedy, and the choices they must make to find their way back to each other.

One family. One tragedy. One incredible decision to change their fate.

A quiet lakeside resort in Vermont seems like the perfect summer getaway for Olivia and Harry Somerville and their three young boys. But in a single moment, their idyllic family retreat becomes a mother’s worst nightmare. Returning from a solo hike one afternoon, Olivia learns from a passing stranger that one of her sons has drowned—but not which one.

In that moment, Olivia makes a panicked decision that will change her family forever.

If she never knows which son has drowned, can Olivia convince herself that none of them have? By shielding herself from reality, can she continue to live in a world where all three boys are still alive?

An emotional and heartfelt meditation on the nature of loss, the gift of recovery, and the bonds of love, The Ones We Keep tells the story of one family as they learn to face their grief and fight for hope.

**My Review**

Wow, I am struggling with the right words to describe my feelings about this book. I easily give this a 5-star rating, but I’m also conflicted about everything from beginning to end. Olivia, her husband Harry, and their three young sons – Brian Andrew, and Rory go to Vermont for vacation in 1971. Harry has tennis games scheduled one day when Olivia wants to go on a hike so they arrange for childcare for the boys. Olivia stops on a rock for lunch, falls asleep, and is very late getting back. When she is almost back to the resort she learns from two teenage girls that a young boy from New Jersey has drowned. Rather than face which of her children drowned while she was gone, Olivia chooses to disappear and create a new life which includes the daily mantra, “I have three sons.”

First of all, kudos to Bobbie Jean Huff for publishing her debut novel at 76!

But secondly, what the hell? Any reader that is a mother will struggle with this novel because of her decision to abandon her family rather than face which one died. She and Harry had a wonderful and healthy relationship, which I feel, would have survived this terrible loss. Brian, the oldest goes on to struggle with alcoholism and relationships his entire life, always feeling the loss of his mother. The youngest, Rory goes on to lead a successful and happy life, perhaps because of his young age and the mother-figure that was placed into his life shortly after Olivia’s disappearance. Olivia, on the other hand, goes on to lead a life of quiet solitude, slowly losing all recall of her previous life, including the birthdates of her children and her own birthday. Therefore, for the majority of this novel, I kept asking myself, “how and why is this woman doing this?”

My rating of this novel is not based on Olivia herself, but the writing. Despite being one of the saddest things I have read in my lifetime, I have nothing but awe and respect for Huff’s writing style, imagery, and character development. This book reads as if one of the greatest literary minds of our time has written it. Be prepared to feel the pain of every character and recognize the sounds, sights, and smells that are frequently mentioned. There is absolutely nothing negative that I can come up with about the writing at all.

Now, let me explain that this novel also frustrated the living hell out of me. Besides struggling with Olivia’s original decision to flee when she learned that one of her sons had drowned, the ending was just about my undoing. So much suspense was built and then the way it abruptly ended had me spewing so many four-letter words I felt I needed to go to church and beg for forgiveness. I cannot stand ambiguous endings like this one because I crave drama and a concrete resolution. Nevertheless, I can’t recall a book that conjured so many different emotions and made me stop and think so many times, wondering what I would do differently, or exactly as she did.

This novel is beyond amazing. Was I left feeling happy and uplifted? Good Lord, no! But I feel lucky to have read this author’s incredible work.

*Thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

Book Reviews, Release Blitz

Release Blitz and Review: Watch Me Fall, by Erin Trejo

RELEASE BLITZ
Title: Watch Me Fall
Author: Erin Trejo
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: December 17, 2021
 
BLURB
 
There was a time in my life when I was happy.
Then she left me to raise my daughter on my own.
I overcame every obstacle thrown at me and grew my empire to what it is today.
So, when life throws me a curveball in the form of my daughter’s best friend, I’m unprepared.
She’s perfect.
Everything a man could ask for but she’s off-limits.
She’s forbidden fruit.
Something I can’t have.
One touch just isn’t enough, and I need more.
I’m willing to put everything on the line for this girl, regardless of the consequences.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

*My Review*

Welcome to my stop on the release blitz tour for Erin Trejo’s Watch Me Fall. This dad/daughter’s best friend romance is about Mather and Rowen. Rowen is Mather’s daughter’s bestfriend and they secretly have eyes for one another. Suddenly something snaps within Mather and he decides that consequences be damned, he wants this young woman. They have to overcome obstacles of age, life experiences, and Mather’s professional life in order to be together.

So, I love a good dad/daughter’s best friend romance every once in a while because they are typically so unrealistic and are a legitimate escape from reality. I loved Mather, loved Rowen, and loved the two of them together.

As far as the plot, I loved the suspense and tension dealing with the bad guys. And I loved how their relationship continued to grow despite all of their obstacles. With this type of novel you have to be able to suspend disbelief and fall into the insta-love trap to enjoy it, which I did. However, I had some issues with the writing style. I feel like despite the subject matter this could have been a hell of a novel because of all of the suspense elements, however, it fell short for me several times. Despite Mather’s overprotective nature, he failed Rowen a few times and moreover, she was very quick to forgive. Also, I felt like his daughter’s acceptance of her father and best friend being together was a bit unrealistic because it literally took her about a minute to be o.k. with it. 

Watch Me Fall is not literary greatness but a great escape on a dreary day. If you just want to drift into the lovely fiction/romance world for a few hours, then this is the book for you. 

GOODREADS LINK: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59003634-watch-me-fall
 
 
PURCHASE LINKS
 
US: https://amzn.to/3dWtI5u
UK: https://amzn.to/3p0m54s
CA: https://amzn.to/3e1uga1
AU: https://amzn.to/33rTdcJ
 
Free in Kindle Unlimited

Also available in paperback: https://amzn.to/30jIcJt
 
 
EXCERPT
 
“I’m not tired,” I say in a breathy tone.
“What is it you want to do then, Rowan?” I swallow hard as he looks me in the eye. There’s something dark dancing in his, and I want it. I want to reach out and touch it. There’s a strange feeling in my chest when he takes a step closer to me and then another. Our chests are nearly touching at this point, and a shiver runs through my body.
“You have nothing to say?” he asks, keeping his eyes trained on mine.
“You. I want to do you.” The alcohol has loosened my tongue, and I blurt the words out. The thoughts I’ve had of him for years now. Mather smirks at me before shaking his head.
“You couldn’t handle me.”
“Try me,” I answer. Mather’s nostrils flare, and his eyes flash with fire before he pulls his hands away from me. He takes a small step back and looks me up and down, causing bumps to form on my skin.
“Kneel,” he demands. I snicker, thinking it’s a joke. He raises an eyebrow and challenges me.
“You’re kidding?”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” his tone hard. My insides tremble as I think about doing it. I almost drop to my knees for him, but something stops me. I don’t know if it’s all the alcohol I’ve consumed tonight, but I stand my ground.
“Just like I said, you couldn’t handle me. Go to bed, Rowan.”
“I’m not ready for bed,” I tell him. He moves to walk away, and this time I fall to my knees. Shouldn’t this be degrading? Shouldn’t it feel all wrong? For some reason, it doesn’t, and I stay, on my knees, gazing up at him.
Mather turns back, seeing me on the floor at his mercy before he steps back into my space. His hand comes to cup my cheek and slowly feathers his fingers over my flesh. His thumb comes to my lip, gently stroking over the bottom one.
“Open your mouth,” he says, keeping his eyes on me the whole time. Slowly I part my lips for him, and he slides his thumb inside. I close my lips around it and twirl my tongue over the tip. He watches me, waiting. I suck his thumb, imagining it’s his cock. I continue to suck until I can feel heat pool between my thighs.
 
 
AUTHOR BIO
 
USA Today Best-Selling Author.
Erin is an author of all things Alpha. Her specialty is MC romance but loves to dip into dark romance too. She will weave you a story that will have you gasping for air as you try to figure out what’s going to happen next. All of Erin’s books will have some form of romance as well as suspense. With that being said you need to keep in mind that Erin’s tagline is always true. Fairy Tales Don’t Always Have A Happy Ending. Do you think you’re ready to take the plunge into
Connect with Erin! She loves her stalkers.
 
 
AUTHOR LINKS
 
Website/Newsletter: https://www.authorerintrejo.com
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/erin-trejo
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorerintrejo
Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1177887305577544
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Erin-Trejo/e/B00U0RXH80
Twitter: https://twitter.com/trejo_erin
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authorerintrejo

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water, by Erin Bartels

The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water, by Erin Bartels

Publication: Revell; January 4, 2022

About: The best fiction simply tells the truth.
But the truth is never simple.

When novelist Kendra Brennan moves into her grandfather’s old cabin on Hidden Lake, she has a problem and a plan. The problem? An inflammatory letter from A Very Disappointed Reader. The plan? To confront Tyler, her childhood best friend’s brother–and the man who inspired the antagonist in her first book. If she can prove that she told the truth about what happened during those long-ago summers, perhaps she can put the letter’s claims to rest and meet the swiftly approaching deadline for her next book.

But what she discovers as she delves into the murky past is not what she expected. While facing Tyler isn’t easy, facing the consequences of her failed friendship with his sister, Cami, may be the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.

Plumb the depths of the human heart with this emotional exploration of how a friendship dies, how we can face the unforgivable, and how even those who have been hurt can learn to love with abandon.

**My Review**

A while back I was scrolling through available books on NetGalley and immediately stopped when I saw The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water. How beautiful is this cover? Erin Bartels is a new-to-me author and after reading the blurb I decided to give this one a try. However, now I am struggling to review and rate this one because of my own fault of reading another review of it that was posted on Goodreads. Let me explain…

Kendra returns to her small cottage on a lake in Michigan after inheriting it from her grandfather and to help deal with a serious case of writer’s block. Kendra is only months away from the deadline for her second book – one that she has not yet started – and is constantly stressing over an anonymous letter from “A Very Disappointed Reader” in regards to her first book. So after 8 years she finally returns to Hidden Lake to hopefully find inspiration, answers about who wrote the letter, and perspective on her memory of events that happened there during her childhood.

I must admit that the only reason that I didn’t give up on this by the 20-30% mark is Bartels’ exquisite imagery and descriptions of Kendra’s grandfather’s cabin. Told from Kendra’s POV speaking to her childhood best friend Cami, it almost reads like a letter. She paints such a beautiful picture of innocent times swimming, collecting rocks, and even being bitten by mosquitos that I was instantly transported to my own childhood summers spent out in the country with my grandparents and could vividly recall my own experiences with the heat, rain, bugs, and so on. Otherwise, I was finding this story tedious. But then, additional characters are slowly introduced. There is Robert, the famous author across the lake and father of Cami and Cami’s older brother Tyler. There is Beth, Robert’s wife and mother to Cami and Tyler. There’s a crazy old man named Ike that lives on the lake and has been around forever. Finally, there is Andreas, the German translator that shows up and surprises Kendra eager to get to work finishing the German translation of her first book.

As soon as Tyler appears in the novel, the reader quickly realizes that something happened between them all of those summers ago and it takes a lot of recollection and discussion to clarify if what happened between them was wanted or unwanted on Kendra’s part. Moreover, Kendra’s recurring internal conflict about whether she liked Tyler’s attention or not comes up again and again making the reader wonder about Tyler’s intentions. Kendra clearly says she allowed it to go on for several summers, so was it sexual abuse or shame? All of these questions are answered while there are many other revelations about Kendra’s family, Cami and Tyler’s lives, Robert and Beth’s past, and even admissions from Kendra’s own mother, Jackie.

At the end of the novel, I felt happy about the direction of Kendra’s life. I felt that I understood all of the characters including their motivations and shortcomings. Despite the difficult subject matter and themes in this novel, I also felt that I had read something beautiful and raw and emotional that took horrific events and turned them into an amazing story.

But then I read a review that spun this story in a different direction and confused the hell out of me! It is very rare that I read other reviews of a book after I have read it and before I write my own, obviously so my own opinions are not influenced in any way. I have no idea why I did it today but I reacted so loudly (yelling at my computer screen) that my husband rushed into the room to see what was wrong with me. If this reader’s interpretation is correct, then I got everything very wrong.

In the end, I am of course reviewing this based on what I read and what I felt. This is not a fast-paced novel and isn’t full of any steamy, romantic love scenes. But the vivid imagery and retelling of a childhood lost is one that I could not put down. I feel like I have now been to this imaginary place and that I know each of the characters as if they were my own friends and family.

*Thanks to Revell and NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest review!

Book Reviews

Book Review: Her Silent Husband, by Sam Vickery

Her Silent Husband,

by Sam Vickery

Publication: Bookouture (November 15, 2021)

About:

I stared at the cordless phone, my hand shaking, my pulse echoing in my ears. I walked slowly to the kitchen counter, staring out the window as Ceci swung back and forth on the swing. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I had no idea what to do next.

It was so chaotic that afternoon I barely heard the phone ring. With four children to organise, things were always busy, but I enjoyed the sound of our family rushing around our beautiful townhouse. From the moment I met my husband Drew he’d ensured that we had the best of everything, that our children would never lose out like I did when I was growing up…

But when I answer the phone, my world comes crashing down. The woman on the other end tells me that Drew is in a coma. He should have been making his way home, but instead I’m shocked when I find out that he tried to end his own life.

I know I have to keep things together and hold on to the idea that this is all one big mistake. I remind myself of how his face would light up whenever he read to our children cuddled up on the sofa. I reason that he would never do such a terrible thing.

But as my family rallies around to help, it becomes clear that Drew’s sister Gemma knows a shocking secret that my devoted husband has been keeping from me. If he wakes up, can he still be the man I love? Or will his secret tear our family apart?

**My Review**

*Trigger warnings: attempted suicide, addiction.

Welcome to my review of the latest by Sam Vickery, Her Silent Husband. This was my first time reading this author and my first impression was that I enjoyed her writing style with the perfect balance of narrative and dialog. Beth is a very busy mother of four extremely concerned with keeping up with The Joneses and making sure that her children have near-perfect lives. They are wealthy, live in a home in Notting Hill, and have what appears to be an envious family life. But then she gets the call that her husband Drew is in the hospital. Frustrating to me, she seemed very inconvenienced about having to go to the hospital when his secretary simply tells her he has had an accident. But upon arrival, she learns that Drew tied a rope around his neck and stepped off of his desk in an attempt to end his life. Now she is left with four children (one special needs), a house to run, and no earthly clue how to access any money or pay any bills.

Let me begin by saying that although I completely sympathized with Beth’s predicament, I was very quickly annoyed by how helpless she was. In this day and age, I feel that a woman should know how to access accounts and pay bills. Yes, she was primarily in charge of taking care of their four children and running them from this practice to the next for music, swimming, etc., but she literally had no clue how to pay an electricity bill.

But even more frustrating was that she did not know her husband in the least, and knew very little about her children. Yes, she was accustomed to Ceci’s outbursts and habits because of her having Down’s Syndrome and needing that extra bit of attention, but otherwise, she was oblivious to the wants and needs of everyone living under her roof. She won me over in the end and made my heart happy, but she was a challenge to like for most of the novel.

Then there was Gemma, Drew’s sister. I’m sorry but she was just too much for me. An addict stuck with the haunts of her past, Gemma coasted from one minimum wage job to the next, entertaining various addictions to various substances, all the while acting like the same six-year-old girl who went through a horrible six months with her brother. I am not belittling childhood trauma or the power of addiction, but she truly had no redeeming qualities. I feel that her character completely overplayed the “pitiful baby sister” role and honestly needed to grow up and pull her head out of her ass. Her brother obviously was struggling with enough of his own demons that he shouldn’t have still been her emotional crutch all of those years later.

Now that I have expressed a small fraction of my issues with the main characters, let me tell you what I loved about this! First is the theme stressing the importance of teamwork in marriage and parenting. Regardless of career choices, it took two to get married and no one has any babies alone, so both parties need to chip in. Secondly, kids need to be allowed to be kids with unstructured time and just spontaneous family outings or games. Not everything has to be a sport or class that results in a participation ribbon. And finally, the importance of true communication. Maybe he wasn’t assertive enough, but Drew did attempt to talk to Beth before his suicide attempt. If you are sitting down with your spouse and they are upset and looking at you with pleading eyes – for God’s sake listen to what they need to say!

Sam Vickery has shone a light on so many common hiccups in the family dynamic throughout this novel from losing jobs, special needs children, bills to pay, and co-dependent siblings. Was this novel frustrating as hell? Yes! However, it was very honest and raw, illustrating the true feelings of each character regardless of how uncomfortable it was. This is not an uplifting novel by any means, except for the last few chapters that made my heart sing, but I think it’s an important novel in that there are numerous people out there right now that need to read this.

3.5 stars rounded up to 4.

*Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion!

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Story of Our Secrets, by Shari Low

The Story of Our Secrets,

by Shari Low

Publication: Boldwood Books; November 2, 2021

About:

Colm O’Flynn was loved by his close circle of family and friends, however his death came too soon for everyone to make peace with their past.

Shauna, his second wife, adored him. But one night she broke their marriage vows, and didn’t get time to ask Colm’s forgiveness.

Jess was the first Mrs O’Flynn. Her heart is set on someone new, but will the last one night stand she shared with Colm come back to haunt her?

Colm’s best friend, Dan, is recently divorced. Can he take a second shot at happiness if it means betraying the one person who always had his back?

What no-one knows is that somewhere out there Colm left messages that could set them free to start over again.

Can divine intervention help them find Colm’s last wishes before it’s too late to love again?

*My Review*

I have read and reviewed several of Shari Low’s novels on my blog over the years and was very eager to get started on The Story of Our Secrets, although I am running way behind! Colm O’Flynn died of a brain tumor in 2016 leaving behind his wife Shauna, their young daughter, and two older sons from his previous marriage. Also in his close circle were his ex-wife Jess, his best friend Dan, and Dan’s wife (and Shauna’s best friend), Lulu. Fast forward to 2021 and we learn where everyone is in their lives now that Colm is gone. Told in alternating POVs by Colm and Shauna, we discover all of the things Colm wanted to say before dying and all the ways his close-knit group has or hasn’t moved forward since his death.

This is a tough one to review because I’m not sure if I want to give this 3 or 4 stars. I liked Shauna and her sense of humor, I liked Jess and the bond that she and Shauna shared, and Dan was just o.k. But tolerating the selfish and immature Lulu for the duration of this book was painful. Not just a little painful, but as in – it took me 3 weeks to read a book that would have normally taken me 3-4 hours. But the real biggie here is that I realized about halfway through that I had read this. Then thought that was impossible since it was just published. Eventually, I figured out that I had read The Story of Our Life, which is all about Colm, Shauna, and the rest of the crew. However, the only new information was the end of two marriages and some secrets.

So, why did I finish it? Honestly, because I love Shari Low and feel it completely inappropriate to DNF one of her novels. Also, I wanted to see if Shauna would ever move on with her life. I’m glad that I finished it because there were two very happy endings and also just because so much of the dialogue on Shauna’s part was very witty. But unfortunately, this is my least favorite book from this author, ever.

*Thanks to NetGalley for providing this ARC in exchange for my honest opinion.