Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

What would you do if you found out the life that you were living was a lie? If the life your parents or grandparents have lived was based on a lie? What if your entire family history was based on a lie? This is the true story for some children whose parents don’t tell them that they are adopted either until later in life or after the parents die. Such events can sometimes be traumatic, but it all depends on the child’s character and the sense of identity that they have developed. Will the news that they are adopted be easily accepted or will it throw their lives into upheaval as they work to find their birth parents and their biological heritage? Those questions are all prevalent through Lisa Wingate’s newest book, Before We Were Yours.

Before We Were Yours is a work of historical fiction that delves into the shady antics of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society run by the infamous Georgia Tann. Tann ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society for over 25 years. Between 1924 and 1950, it is estimated that Tann stole over 5,000 children from their families and that over 500 died from abuse, disease, and poor care while they were living under Tann’s care. This true story shattered so many lives. I recommend you read a little bit about Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society before you pick up Before We Were Yours in order to give yourself background information (It isn’t necessary, but like a true Girl Scout and an ever researching librarian, I love to be prepared.)

Before We Were Yours begins in Memphis, Tennessee in 1936. The five Foss children are anxiously awaiting the birth of their youngest new sibling while their mom labors inside their shanty boat home. Fearing for the mom’s life, the midwife demands that she be taken to the hospital to give birth or the babies and the mom will die. Shuttling her off to the hospital in a boat, the dad tells the eldest Foss child to watch over the siblings and stay at the shanty boat until they come back. Men show up in the middle of the night however and the Foss siblings’ lives are forever changed.

Flash to the present and Avery Stafford has come home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment and to also be groomed to possibly take over her father’s political career. At a particularly moving photo-op in a nursing home, Avery meets a woman who immediately captures her interest. The things this woman says to her has Avery shaken to the core. Avery decides that she needs to learn more about this mysterious woman’s life and thus begins a journey that will change her family’s history forever. Secrets never really stay secrets after all.

This novel shifts back and forth between the Foss children in the 1930s and Avery Stafford in the present. I really enjoyed the flip-flop between the two stories as the story of the Foss children created a deep swirling mystery around the woman in the nursing home and Avery’s grandmother. This book had me doing two things: learning more about Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Children’s Home Society AND looking into my family’s history to see what I did not know already.


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The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

Have you ever wondered what happens to the children who are the product of an abducted woman and her captor? After the news dies down, it’s expected that the abducted person and their children get on with life. But can they really? What happens to them? I’ve always been fascinated by the aftereffects. The latest book I read deals with this issue.

The Marsh King’s Daughter tells the story of Helena Pelletier. Helena finally has the life she always wanted: a loving husband, two adorable daughters, and a business that she manages herself. Everything is going perfect until Helena’s past comes crashing back into her life. Seems like she should be able to handle whatever comes, right? Well, Helena has a massive secret that not even her husband knows about. Her mother was kidnapped at the age of 14 by Jacob Holbrook. Jacob whisked her off to a cabin where she gave birth two years later in said cabin in the marshlands of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Kept captive with no possible way to escape, her mother fought to stay alive. Growing up, Helena never knew the real truth about her father or her mother. She grew up knowing her father was violent, but Helena loved him. He taught her how to survive in the wilderness: how to hunt, track, and live. His gruffness seemed to be a given. His violence? Not so much, but Helena learned to live with it. For the most part…

At the age of 12, Helena and her mother escaped, propelled into action by a series of events that thrust her father’s behavior into a new light. Their rescue made headlines, but Helena has taken great pains to make sure her past stays firmly in the past. She thought she was safe considering her father is in prison until she heard an emergency news bulletin saying that he had escaped. Jacob had found his way back into the Michigan wilderness. Deep down, Helena knows that the authorities have no hope of catching her father. She is the only one who can find him. After all, she knows his tricks. He taught her how to track and to hunt. Helena takes off into the wilderness knowing that she is the only person capable of successfully tracking her father.

I enjoyed this book, especially the parts where the reader learns about Helena’s past. Readers get to see Helena’s life unfold from birth to present. This book is also filled with sections of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same title. The setting in this book is very well-developed and the pace moves quickly, so be sure to pay attention if you’re listening. I had to back up a few times when my mind wandered. This book was eloquently crafted and I finished it wanting more. Give it a read!

This book is also available as a CD audiobook.

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

When it comes to finding a new book to read, I’ve finally figured out what my favorite genre is. I love thrillers. Give me a story with a well-developed plot line, fully fleshed out characters, and make sure the story is gripping. Psychological thrillers with a hint of crazy and a lot of suspense are my go-to novels. I recently stumbled across another B.A. Paris novel called Behind Closed Doors and since I liked another of her novels a lot, I decided to try this one.

Behind Closed Doors messed with my head, but in a good way. This book is a perfect illustration of the fact that what we present to the world is not our true selves. Jack and Grace are the perfect couple. He has the wealth and the good looks to back it up, while she exudes charm and elegance at all the dinner parties they throw. You just can’t help but like them and maybe even wish your own relationship was like theirs. Their life is so well put together and perfect.

There’s only one small hiccup: Grace and Jack are never apart. He does go to work, but Grace is never seen anywhere without Jack. While some may say it’s because they are still in their newlywed period and are madly in love, others may find it odd. Grace doesn’t work, in fact she gave up her job shortly after they were married, but she never meets up with anyone for lunch or coffee. She has a plethora of excuses. The parties they throw are so extravagant and decadent, but Grace’s figure never changes. In fact, she is incredibly tiny. Grace doesn’t own a cell phone and all emails are sent to Jack’s email. She leaves the house with an empty purse, their house is gated and immensely private, and there are bars on one of the windows. What is really happening between Jack and Grace?

All those factors are overlooked because he is so kind and doting, while she is such a fabulous cook and fantastic gardener. Jack has even agreed to let Millie, Grace’s special-needs sister, move into their house when she turns 18. He’s designing her perfect and most-wished-for bedroom and wants the house to be just right when she moves in. He keeps mistakenly saying her bedroom is red though, when her favorite color is yellow. Why? What is going on? There are just so many slightly off comments and strange facts that point to some area of conflict within their marriage, but their perfect façade trumps all.

Without saying too much and giving away a major portion of the plot, I found this book to be terrifyingly psychological. Paris succeeded in getting in my head and had me wondering what was happening in Jack and Grace’s marriage and why each respective character behaves the way that they do. I was unsettled throughout this book because the story that Paris weaves is so believable. I found myself questioning the relationships of the people around me. I was immediately gripped by this novel and finished it in two days. Definitely recommended.


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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The lives of classic movie actresses and actors have always piqued my interest. How they lived their lives, their scandalous affairs(if they actually had any), and what they did to become an icon are just a few of the things that I always want to know. Media coverage of both classic film stars and modern film stars seldom reveal the whole truth and as a result, fans usually have to wait until after the star’s death to learn the full truth, if that. Shelving a cart of new books one day, I stumbled upon The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. The cover immediately captured my interest as the woman looked like she could have been a classic movie star. Reading the blurb proved that she was and I knew I needed to read this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is the gripping tale of Evelyn Hugo, an adored movie icon. Evelyn’s story is heart-wrenching and pure psychological romance fiction as readers are drawn into Evelyn’s stunningly glamorous world. With her popularity blossoming in the 1950s when she made her way to Los Angeles, Evelyn dominated the Hollywood scene in her relentless and ruthless rise to the top of the movie industry. Evelyn always knew what she wanted and was not afraid to use her body or the people around her to get it. Living in the public eye was a price she paid for being famous, but Evelyn still managed to keep secrets from the public and some of her closest friends that they never would have guessed.

After her decision to leave the Hollywood and show business in general in the late 80s, Evelyn became a recluse. She was never seen out, declined to sit down for interviews, and pictures of an aging Evelyn were almost non-existent. When she reaches out and contacts an unknown magazine reporter named Monique Grant to interview her, everyone in the journalism community is shocked. Why would Evelyn choose Monique to reveal her scandalous and glamorous life? What makes her so special? Why is Evelyn choosing to do this now? Monique has her own issues. She’s not exactly the number one journalist in the world, let alone her city or even her area of expertise. She’s not even 100% happy with where she is working as her career has stalled. Monique’s personal life is just as messy. Her husband left her just five weeks prior and Monique is still reeling.

Recognizing the Evelyn Hugo interview as the potential major career boost that she desperately needs, Monique decides she will do whatever it takes to make this a success and sits down with Evelyn. It becomes clear right off the bat that Evelyn has ulterior motives and it’s left to Monique to figure those out. Quickly Monique becomes wrapped up in the story of Evelyn’s life from her entrance to Los Angeles in the 1950s and the seven husbands she had before she retired in the late 80s. As Evelyn weaves her life’s story for Monique, she discovers that Evelyn’s ruthless ambition led her to some slightly questionable, but nevertheless sustaining, friendships and a major forbidden love that had the ability to potentially ruin Evelyn’s career. Evelyn’s professional and personal lives are forever linked together. As Monique formulates Evelyn’s story, she realizes Evelyn never does anything without having a reason. Monique begins worrying why Evelyn chose her to write her story and when Evelyn’s story finally reaches the present, Monique realizes that she and Evelyn are connected in a truly tragic and life-changing way.

I enjoyed this book more than I thought that I would. Multiple storylines were at play throughout the novel and I found myself thoroughly engrossed in each one. The vivid descriptions of Evelyn’s life as she navigated the rocky waters of fame and her personal life were so well depicted that I found myself believing for a bit that she was a real person. I wanted to learn even more about Evelyn Hugo and her seven husbands. She is fascinating. Highly recommended.

The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve

Have you ever looked at the cover of a book and knew that the story was going to hook you? That’s how I felt when I saw The Stars are Fire by Anita Shreve. Swirling fire, a deep red cover, and a bold font all signaled to me that the content of this book was going to leave me wanting more. Shreve exceeded my expectations with this novel.

The Stars are Fire is a piece of historical domestic fiction that focuses around the Great Maine Fire of 1947. This real event is given a fictionalized twist as Shreve tells the story of Grace Holland’s attempts to survive and rebuild after her life falls into ruins around her. After a summer-long drought, fires began near Bar Harbor and started ravaging the coast of Maine. People were left wondering where to escape to and hoping that the closeness of the sea would spare them from the brunt of the fire.

Grace Holland lives with her husband Gene and their two small toddlers. Five months pregnant, Grace is left to protect her children on her own after Gene leaves her to go help fight the fires. Grace and her best friend, Rosie, race to the sea with their four children to try to survive the flames. Keeping their children alive is their only priority as Grace and Rosie watch in abject horror as their houses and the community that they have grown to love bursts into flames. Hunkered down in the sand by the ocean, Grace fights to keep her children alive, sacrificing her own body to do so.

In the morning, Grace finds herself and her children wonderfully alive, but their lives have irrevocably changed. They’re penniless, homeless, and without a father or husband. Gene never returned from fighting the fires and no one knows where he is. Facing an uncertain future, Grace is forced to rely on the kindness of strangers until she either finds Gene or her mother or gets a job to support herself. Grace has to make a new life for herself and her children, something that both frightens and excites her since her life with Gene was not the most loving or supportive. While she has suffered great losses, Grace is able to move forward, find new happiness, and discover all the things she was missing when she was living with Gene. Just when she is settled into a new normal, something out of the blue happens and Grace is forced to be braver than she ever was before.

I really enjoyed this book. It was the first Anita Shreve book that I read and the first book in a really long time that had me wishing it would have been longer. There were so many characters whose backstories I was yearning to know more of and the ending had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen. This book is set up so well that Shreve could easily spin it into a series. Here’s to hoping she does!


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Deadline by Sandra Brown

I love romance books. They are the perfect stress-free read. When I’m feeling anxious or need a break, I tend to gravitate toward the romance section in the library for a new(to me) romance read. I can usually fly through a romance novel in a day or two and get back to my other reading. I needed a good romance read recently and decided to look for one online. I checked out a copy of Deadline by Sandra Brown a week ago through OverDrive. I had just finished another book, saw Deadline, thought the cover looked interesting AND saw it was available immediately for checkout, so I decided to give it a listen. I had never read anything from Sandra Brown before, so I was expecting a regular suspenseful fiction read. Boy, was I wrong.

Deadline by Sandra Brown is a fantastically crafted piece of romantic suspense fiction that deals with family secrets, post-traumatic stress disorder, presumed deaths, missing persons, domestic terrorists, and a massive hunt for the truth. Dawson Scott is a journalist who has traveled the world writing stories. He just returned from Afghanistan after spending almost a year in combat conditions. Dawson is trying to cope with battle fatigue, but finds alcohol and drugs to be his only solace. He’s haunted by what he witnessed overseas and simply trying to get through his life one hour at a time. After being told by his boss that he is to fly somewhere less than desirable to cover a story, Dawson receives a phone call from his source within the FBI that has the power to completely change his life.

Amelia Nolan is struggling to get over the death of her ex-husband, former Marine Jeremy Wesson. Jeremy disappeared and was later presumed to have been murdered after the mutilated body of his married girlfriend was found eaten by dogs. Jeremy’s DNA was found on scene and authorities have presumed him dead. The woman’s husband is on trial for his murder and Amelia has been called to testify. Tackling this case while raising two very young children as a single parent, Amelia is working hard to keep her life together. With her nanny in tow, Amelia and the boys spend time on the beach, their safe haven from the craziness around the trial.

Dawson’s source has called to say that the DNA found at the Wesson crime scene has found a match. Jeremy is actually the biological son of a pair of domestic terrorists who have been on the FBI’s most wanted list for over 40 years. Pleading with Dawson, his source convinces him to cover the trial of Jeremy’s presumed murderer to try to find out more information about Jeremy’s life. Walking into the courtroom, Dawson plans on staying for a few days, writing his story, and moving on. The minute he sets eyes on Amelia though, his plan goes out the window. In an effort to learn more about Jeremy, Dawson decides to get closer to Amelia and soon finds himself developing feelings for her. Dawson has to stay focused, figure out who Jeremy Wesson really is, and if he is still in contact with his domestic terrorist parents. Could he catch them? Just how much danger are Amelia and her boys in?

This book is definitely a thriller with a bit of romance. Brown has crafted a book that is very suspenseful, but has some definite steamy scenes. This book is well-crafted with a plot that is quite twisty and chockful of red herrings. I was engrossed through this book as Dawson and Amelia worked to find out the truth. Highly recommend. I can’t wait to read more Sandra Brown!


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The Breakdown by B.A. Paris

When I was working on my ordering, I stumbled upon the name: B. A. Paris. For some reason, I thought she was a well established author already and decided to give her newest book a try. Later when I began listening to said book, I looked her up on Fantastic Fiction, one of my favorite author websites. Low and behold, Paris was not an established author! Her first book, Behind Closed Doors, had only been released in 2016. I’m glad that I decided to pick up her newest book, The Breakdown, on a whim and give it a listen. Try it. You won’t be disappointed.

The Breakdown is Paris’ second novel. In this thrilling piece of suspense fiction, Paris searches for the truth around a murder investigation. Cass is a school teacher on her way home from work, itching to begin her much needed summer break. A major storm has hit her area making her drive home more treacherous than it usually is. There’s a shortcut between her school and her house that she usually takes, much to her husband’s chagrin. Calling him before she leaves, her husband tells her not to take the shortcut because even on a clear weather day, that isolated wooded road is difficult to drive on. Taking a major road on the way home, Cass is almost run off the road and makes the split-second decision to take the short-cut home.

Almost home, Cass sees a stalled vehicle pulled over on the side of the road. She stops to help, but the weather picks up and Cass decides to leave and call the authorities when she gets home to alert them of the stalled vehicle. The next morning, the news reveals that the stranded driver had been brutally murdered the night before. Cass is immediately thrown into great turmoil. When she drove by, the driver was still alive and according to the timeline released by the authorities, was killed most likely right after Cass left for home. Did she see who did it? Was the murderer in the car? If Cass would have exited her car to help the driver, would the driver have been saved or would Cass have been murdered as well? Should she call the police and let them know she saw the driver? What should she do? These questions and so much more race through Cass’s mind all day and night. Her life becomes consumed by guilt and the nagging thought that she failed and could have saved the driver.

Add in the fact that Cass’s memories are starting to fade, Cass begins to immediately doubt herself.  Her mother suffered from dementia and Cass is worried that she has it as well. Cass’s worries about her health and her massive guilt over not stopping to help the stranded driver exacerbate her confusion. She starts to forget way more things than usual. Cass mixes up dates, forgets purchasing things, and becomes increasingly paranoid. Her worry over the driver ratchets up several notches when she starts receiving silent phone calls that she is convinced are from the murderer. Her husband and best friend are very supportive, however, and Cass finds herself relying on them more than usual to get through this turmoil. If only the two got along better, then Cass’s life would be even easier. Nevertheless, she knows that they will stick by her and support her as she works through her issues.

This book was riveting and had all the necessary crazy, psychological twists that I love in suspense thrillers. Each character is very well-developed and fits neatly into this intensely twisty, clever, and engrossing plot. I was definitely caught off guard when the twist happened, so much so that when I finished this book, I immediately put B.A. Paris’ other novel on hold!


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Invisible by James Patterson

 

James Patterson has slowly wormed his way in as one of my favorite authors. Every time I pick up one of his books, I know I’m going to enjoy it. If he’s not writing a book by himself, Patterson teams up with other writers, thus making his books change slightly from person to person. I have yet to find one that hasn’t piqued my interest and as such I plan to keep reading books by James Patterson until I grow tired of him.

Invisible by James Patterson and David Ellis was my latest listen. I had listened to another Patterson/Ellis book previously, so I pretty much knew I was going to enjoy it. Bonus part: the male narrator of this book(there are multiple narrators) is someone that has narrated other books that I have really enjoyed. His delivery really captures each character’s personality.

In Invisible, Emmy Dockery is on leave from the FBI. After her sister’s grisly death, Emmy finds that she can’t do her job as a research analyst for the FBI as effectively as she used to. On leave, her sister’s death consumes her. Emmy is obsessed with finding a link between hundreds of unsolved cases that she believes are connected. Having set up Google alerts for crimes similar to how her sister died, Emmy is inundated with newspaper clippings of events that all seem to be related. Waking up gasping in the middle of the night, Emmy’s recurring nightmares mimic how her sister died and leave her even more desirous to connect these unsolved cases. Calling in a favor from her ex-boyfriend, field agent Harrison “Books” Bookman, Emmy hopes that he will be able to help her finding the missing piece in this string of brutal kidnappings, rapes, and murders that all have a fire element. No one believes her that these unsolved cases could be connected, even when she lines up all the facts that she has gathered. It isn’t until Emmy finds a certain piece of evidence that Books perks up and begins to believe that what she is saying could possible be true. This story alternated between Emmy’s story and a mystery man’s story. Reading those alternate chapters back to back really ups the creepy, thrilling, suspenseful nature of this book.


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You Belong to Me by Colin Harrison

I tried expanding out of my comfort zone to read a nonfiction book and quickly fell asleep. Perhaps I shouldn’t have started it before I went to bed… As a result, the next day, I turned to the next book on my list, a suspenseful thriller by Colin Harrison called You Belong to Me. This book started out slow for me, but quickly picked up. If you decide to read it, I urge you to stick with it. This piece of literary fiction tells the tale of old maps, immigration troubles, lost loves, hit men, obsession, murder, and betrayal. I loved it. It was riveting.

Paul Reeves works as an immigration lawyer, a fairly successful one at that. His boutique firm handles cases for famous people, successful businessmen, and large companies working with foreign nationals. Paul may like his job, but his real love is maps. His passion is collecting old maps of New York. Seeing the city change throughout the years through a print record gives him chills. As he’s walking the streets or looking at his maps, he can see, in his mind’s eye, New York growing, changing, and morphing into the city that he lives in today. Paul can frequently be found at auctions throughout the city bidding on different New York maps. He attends an auction one afternoon with his neighbor Jennifer Mehraz. Jennifer is the beautiful young wife of an Iranian financier-lawyer, a man who has the best things in life and knows what he wants. Jennifer’s husband knows how to complete deals and expects his life to keep going the way that it is. Halfway through the auction, a man in soldier fatigues appears and Jennifer’s entire demeanor changes. She abandons Paul and takes off with this mystery man.

This man who showed up out of the blue to see Jennifer is a long-lost love from her past, from when she used to live in Pennsylvania. His arrival sets off a frightening chain of events that entangles Paul, Jennifer, her husband, the mystery man, and a wide variety of other people in a messy dangerous game. Jennifer, remaining somewhat tight-lipped about this mystery man, leaves those close to her very confused as they try to figure out just who he is and how they are connected. Her husband, being Iranian and very important in his chosen work field, feels her dalliance with this mystery man as a major embarrassment and wants the whole situation to disappear, no matter the consequences nor the expense.

Paul has more than Jennifer and her possessive husband to deal with though. He is desperate to get his hands on one of the world’s rarest and most sought after maps. Paul thought it was out of his reach until he was directly contacted by the seller with an offer for him to buy it. Before he can put in his offer, another buyer swoops in and buys it right from under Paul. He’s furious about this incident and is desperate to figure out who this mysterious buyer is. Paul will do anything to get that precious map into his possession, especially since it was promised to him and therefore should belong to him.

I enjoyed this book, even though it took me a few chapters to get hooked. The characters are very compelling and developed well. There are multiple story lines throughout this book that kept me hooked while I was reading. Every character has their own personal problems to work through, but they each remain entangled together. I enjoyed watching each character’s story grow as the plot developed.  Harrison has written several older books that I’m hoping are just as riveting as You Belong to Me was. I’ll let you know!

The Litigators by John Grisham

The Litigators by John Grisham is a legal thriller that revolves around lawyers, litigation, and what it takes to be the best. David Zinc is an associate at a Chicago firm that has paid him an immense sum over the last five years. He’s on the fast-track, along with thousands of other lawyers in this high-rise firm, to becoming a big name lawyer. Or at least that’s what they’re telling him. Going into work one day, David has a panic attack and dives back into the elevator to escape. Stumbling into a bar, David gets completely drunk and ends up at the law offices of Finley & Figg.

Oscar Finley and Wally Figg are law firm partners in a boutique legal firm who don’t particularly like each other. They bicker in the office over anything and everything, from advertising methods to who they take on as clients to when they come in to work. Add in some shady legal dealings and Finley & Figg find themselves in hot water over some of their cases quite frequently. Just barely making even financial wise, but not nearly making enough to be comfortable, the senior partner Oscar works to bring in some money while managing junior partner Wally comes up with crazy marketing schemes to bring in any and all clients. Neither lawyer is without fault and with the addition of a cantankerous secretary, who is actually a former client, it’s a minor miracle that the building is still standing, they’re still making some money, and no one has quit.

Wally’s latest scheme revolves around product liability and class action lawsuits dealing with medications. Wally sees dollar signs and a huge payday when he learns of a major pending class action lawsuit against the company that manufactures Krayoxx, a cholesterol-reducing drug that is suspected of causing heart attacks, death, and weakening of the heart. Oscar, and now David, are less than thrilled about this lawsuit, but once Wally gets an idea in his head, he’s going to see it through, no matter the consequences or what others think. A massive medical lawsuit ensues against the pharmaceutical company that owns the drug, Varrick Labs, with Oscar, Wally, and David quickly finding themselves in over their heads. The three join the class action and believe they are on their way to fame and fortune without ever having to set foot in a courtroom. Most of these class actions end up being settled anyway. This book is a suspenseful, entertaining read filled with courtroom drama and theatrics both inside and outside the legal system.


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