Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is known currently for her book, Nine Perfect Strangers, which was made into a limited Hulu series. She has nine adult novels that have been translated into forty languages and have sold more than 20 million copies all over the world. Moriarty has also written three books for children. Her latest adult novel had me on my toes until the very end.

Once you’ve hit a ball there’s no point watching to see where it’s going. You can’t change its flight path now. You have to think about your next move. Not what you should have done. What you do now. – Liane Moriarty, Apples Never Fall

Apples Never Fall is her newest novel, published in 2021. The above quote stuck with me throughout the book as it served as a metaphor both for tennis, which features predominantly in this book, and for life. This is a novel about marriage, siblings, and family, and the confusion and betrayal we feel when those we cherish lash out and hurt us.

The Delaney siblings are at a loss. Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke are all grown and out of their parents’ home, yet they all have a strong pull back to where they grew up, especially now that their mother has gone missing, seemingly without a trace and for no good reason.

The Delaneys are well known in their community. Stan and Joy, the parents, are tennis stars who set up their own tennis academy. They have been married for fifty years and people constantly talk about what a good match they are both on and off the court. Now they have sold the tennis academy and aren’t quite sure what to do with the rest of their lives. Their four children were all tennis stars, in their own right, of course, but Stan never truly believed any of them had the ability to truly make it. It’s okay though because they are all, mostly, settled into their adult lives and seem to have a handle on the future. At least on the surface they are, but even the happiest surfaces can be hiding secrets underneath.

Everything starts to bubble up when a strange young woman named Savannah shows up on Stan and Joy’s doorstep begging for help, bleeding after a domestic violence incident with her boyfriend. Stan and Joy take her in with almost no questions asked, much to their children’s chagrin.

Flash forward: Joy goes missing and Savannah is also nowhere to be found. All the children and Stan have been questioned. The police immediately hone in on Stan because he seems to be hiding something. Their children are also not being fully honest with the police and with each other. It doesn’t help that two of them think their father is innocent while the other two think that he may have hurt their mother. The more questions that are asked, the more each family member is forced to closely reexamine what they believe to be their family truths and core memories.

I particularly enjoyed this novel because it flashes back and forth between past and present. Each major characters’ point of view is also presented, including some peripheral random characters to add some color to the story. I listened to the audiobook version and really enjoyed the Australian narrator Caroline Lee.

This book is available in the following formats:

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham

“There are so many subtle ways we women subconsciously protect ourselves throughout the day; protect ourselves from shadows, from unseen predators. From cautionary tales and urban legends. So subtle, in fact, that we hardly even realize we’re doing them.”

A Flicker in the Dark is Stacy Willingham’s debut novel. It’s a twisted psychological thriller that bounces a bit between past and present; the story of a killer of young teenage girls and the devastating consequences for all involved.

Chloe Davis is working to get her life together. When she was twelve, six teenage girls went missing in her small town in Louisiana. At the end of that summer, Chloe’s father ended up confessing to the crime and was sent to prison. Her family was utterly destroyed. Her mother struggled with the truth and ends up abandoning her family when she couldn’t deal with what had happened. Chloe and her older brother Cooper are left to try to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives by themselves.

Flash forward tweny years, Chloe is working in Baton Rouge as a psychologist. She is recently engaged and preparing for her wedding. Chloe has a life of her own, a house she has worked hard on, and a job she enjoys. She worked tirelessly to get to this point of her life: to escape from her father’s shadow and have a name of her own. Sometimes though, Chloe feels out of control and like she has no idea what is happening around her. She relates a lot to her teenage patients who are troubled and trying to figure out their own lives.

Chloe’s life starts to spiral when a local teenage girl goes missing. Soon after another young girl also disappears. Chloe has flashbacks to the summer that ruined her. When Chloe tries to bring her concerns to the police and to a journalist, she is afraid that they will write her off and tell her to stop getting involved, given her history. Chloe repeatedly sees parallels between her past and present that she isn’t quite sure are real, but if they are, the idea of another killer is horrifying to her.

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Childfree by Choice by Dr. Amy Blackstone

A deeply evidence-based look at the real experiences of those who choose not to have children, 2019’s Childfree by Choice is an honest and empowering look at the many ways of creating lives of meaning and fulfillment.

A childfree woman herself, Dr. Blackstone has always been interested in the way childfree people live in a world that doesn’t really support them. In this book, she pulls together years of research – her own and that of others – to dive deep into what it really means to be childfree. She addresses the numerous myths and threats childfree people face (“You’ll regret it!” “You’re selfish!” “You hate kids!”, etc.) and debunks them all with her own experience alongside verifiable facts drawn from numerous research studies.

What I really liked about this book – aside from her hardcore commitment to evidence and citations supporting her every claim – was the way she carefully explained the difference between what our culture might say, where those assumptions come from, and what is actually true. It’s easy to accept common wisdom at face value, but it’s far more interesting to understand the issue in a nuanced way. Perhaps more importantly, Blackstone maintains an honest, calm and reasonable tone throughout and never comes across condescending or defensive. She never claims that either choice is better or worse, but only states the facts: some people have kids, some people don’t, and either way is a good way to live, as long as it works for you.

If you want to learn about an invisible population, feel empowered to create your own future, or have your eyes opened to the many wonderful ways to make a family, you might be interested in Childfree by Choice.

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

Elizabeth Acevedo has written a new young adult novel detailing the stories of two sisters grieving the loss of their father. Clap When You Land  weaves together their two separate stories into a tight tale of sorrow, loss, and finding a bright spot amidst immense grief.

Camino Rios only sees her father in the summer. Every June, he flies to visit her and her aunt in the Dominican Republic. Papi lights up her tiny community and his presence is everywhere she looks. Even when he’s not there, he protects her. This time when Camino goes to the airport to pick him up, she arrives to see groups of people crying and watching the news. Not her papi…

Yahaira Rios lives in New York City with her father and mother. Papi is her hero. He taught her to play chess and nurtured her talents. He has left every summer to go to the Dominican Republic on business for as long as she can remember. It’s almost the end of the school year and papi has just taken off. Yahaira is called to the principal’s office and notices teachers clustered in corners, crying, and stealing glances at her. A disheveled mami is in the office with devastating news. Her father has died in a plane crash. Her hero is gone.

Grieving their father’s death, Yahaira and Camino struggle to find a new way through life. Without money, Camino doesn’t know how she will keep going to high school and college seems to be now firmly out of the picture. Without her father, Yahaira and her mother are unmoored. Her mami and other relatives spend hours whispering and stop talking as soon as she walks in the room.

Separated by distance, both girls have to figure out a new reality without their father. He’s gone and nothing they do can bring him back. The deeper their grief, the more they struggle to find a new purpose. Just when it feels like they have reached their breaking point, they each learn the other exists. Papi had many secrets.

This book is available in the following formats:

I Know You Know by Gilly MacMillan

Gilly MacMillan released her first book, What She Knew, in 2015. I have been a fan of her books as she writes thrilling psychological suspense. I read a lot of books in this genre, so I know that although many people write thrillers, it takes a lot for them to succeed in crafting a story where readers do not guess the ending. MacMillan’s 2018 release I Know You Know ended with a twist that I didn’t see coming.

I Know You Know is the story of the murders of Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby that happened twenty years ago. The city of Bristol was rocked by the murders of those two young boys whose bodies were dumped and subsequently discovered near a dog racing track in town. Police believed that they found the man responsible and successfully convicted him, but years later, residents around town still have questions that have never been answered.

Cody Swift was best friends with young Charlie and Scott all those years ago. He isn’t satisfied with the conclusion that the police came to and decided to head back to his hometown of Bristol to seek out the truth himself. Cody is planning to record his findings and release them on his new podcast, Time to Tell.

At present at a construction site near where the boys were discovered twenty years ago, human remains have been found. DI John Fletcher, one of the police who found the boys, is left to wonder if the remains found have any connection to what happened to the boys.

Charlie’s mother Jessica Page is not thrilled that Cody is back in town poking through old wounds. The remains just found are also bringing the police back to her door. Jessie has secrets that she would like to stay hidden, but Cody seems determined to shed light all over her past. Jessie isn’t the broken woman that she was all those years ago. She is now married with a 16-year-old daughter and has no desire to relive that trauma from so long ago.

This novel transitions back and forth between both investigations: the original about the boys and the new one focusing on the recently discovered remains along with the possible connection to the boys. While I enjoyed the back and forth between the two as well as the addition of the podcast format, I did have trouble differentiating between the past and the present while listening to the audiobook. The print version highlights the parts about the old case, but that did not translate to the audio, and as a result it was sometimes difficult to tell when something happened. I adjusted to this issue and was able to finish the book, but be aware if you decide to give this a listen!


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The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

   The Most Fun We Ever Had  by Claire Lombardo tells the story of multiple generations of one family. The two people at the head of the family have been deeply in love for over forty years and aren’t afraid to show affection. Their four daughters may grow weary of their constant love, but this novel highlights each person’s connections to the other and how old rivalries may have the power to shatter the carefully built lives they have all built over the years.

Marilyn Connolly and David Sorenson met and fell in love in the 1970s. Growing their marriage and their family, the two don’t have any idea the paths that their lives will travel down.  In present day 2016, Marilyn and David have four daughters who couldn’t be more different than each other: Wendy, Violet, Liza, and Grace.

Told through a series of flashbacks that eventually line up with the present, readers are privy to the ever-expanding lives of each member of the Sorenson family. I listened to the audiobook version of this book and enjoyed the many characters as they allowed me to form a more three-dimensional, multi-faceted portrait of the family as a whole.

Wendy, the oldest daughter, spent years dealing with body issues, was widowed young, and has found the only way to gain comfort in life is through increasing amounts of alcohol and lithe younger men.

Violet is Wendy’s Irish twin. Born less than a year after Wendy, Violet had big dreams of being a lawyer and was able to become one. Soon after though, Violet switched gears to being a stay-at-home mom and circumstances converge to bring her self-doubt, family issues, and anxiety to all time highs as her biggest secret comes back to haunt her.

Liza, the third daughter, has finally become a tenured professor. If only her boyfriend would get help for his depression and leave the apartment, Liza’s life would be infinitely better. When Liza discovers that she’s pregnant, she is forced to confront whether or not she and her boyfriend actually work together anymore.

Grace is forever the baby. Born nine years after Liza, Grace is struggling to find her place. After an innocent lie gets bigger and bigger, she finds herself having to settle down and live in the lie even though it’s eating her up inside.

The arrival of teenage Jonah Bendt into the Sorensons’ lives upsets the delicate balance the family has been living for years. This novel follows the first year after Jonah shows up, as well as flashing back to many other years and life-changing events that helped form them into the people they are today. Marked by the highest highs and the lowest lows, the Sorensons’ pasts are forever tied together even if they want to be separate.


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The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand

Growing up, I always wished that I had an identical twin sister. I blame The Parent Trap movie for that wish. Having someone who looked exactly like me who would be there to trick our friends and family into thinking they were the other person sounded like so much fun. I met a set of identical twins in middle school, realized just how confusing that would actually be, abandoned that desire, and stuck with my normal, not identical, siblings. A lot easier that way. I had forgotten about my twin sister desire until I picked up The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand and got a glimpse into what it is like to have an identical twin as an adult.

The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand tells the complicated stories of Tabitha and Harper Frost. One twin lives on Nantucket, while the other lives on Martha’s Vineyard: a distance of only two and a half hours away by ferry. Yet that two and a half hour separation is widened by years of disagreements, arguments, and resentment that continuously builds because the two never talk to each other. While the two may look exactly like each other, that doesn’t mean they are alike AT ALL. Their personalities, life decisions, and clothing choices only prove to illustrate this point.

Harper and Tabitha have spent their entire lives trying to separate themselves from the other twin and from their other parent. You see, when Tabitha and Harper were young, their parents divorced and each parent took one of the twins to live with them year round with vacations thrown in so the other twin got to see the parent that they didn’t live with. This awkward situation left the twins with some major resentment towards each other and weird interactions with the other parent.

A major family crisis forces the two women together after many years apart. This forced reconciliation sounds like a recipe for disaster, but add in the twin’s mother and Tabitha’s teenage daughter and things are bound to get interesting. Each twin’s personal life keeps forcibly making itself known to the other twin which results in confusion amongst others as they try to figure out which is which. Tabitha and Harper may not want to have to band together through this family crisis, but they sure know how to appear like they like each other. These false appearances can only last so long though and the twins are soon forced to turn to each other for real.


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One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

How do you like your fiction? Do you prefer to follow the life of one character from beginning to end or do you hope for multiple viewpoints to hopefully better understand the story? Do you want your characters to be upfront about their motivations or instead hope there’s a twist somewhere that will catch you off-guard? Everyone has their own reading preference, but without trying something you normally wouldn’t read, how will you know if you actually don’t like it? I’ve been experimenting lately and while I have some duds that never captured my interest, I did stumble upon a few I really enjoyed. One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline was one that gripped me from the beginning!

One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline is a suspenseful thriller that takes a look into how the lives presented to others can be very different than the lives we live behind closed doors. This suburban crime tale begins with a surface look at a mix of characters: a single mom and her athletically gifted high school pitcher son who is shy and socially awkward, but hopes to be recruited by a college for a full-ride scholarship or he has no hope of leaving his small town. The son’s friends range from a fellow teammate from an affluent family who has never wanted for anything, has excellent grades, and is always up for a good time to another teammate whose family is struggling with the recent death of their patriarch, a man who kept the family together no matter what. This community faces all normal high school, family, and teenage struggles, but with the addition of one recent exception: a new stranger in town.

This new stranger seemingly has a hand in everyone’s business in town. He has managed to gain access to the high school as a teacher and coach. With that access, comes ability to better know the parents, staff, and other community members since this is such a small town. This likable stranger has a hidden agenda though, one that no one in the community is privy to and that they could never possibly guess. He has the ability to destroy the town and walk away with no consequences. His hidden plan falls through when a horrific tragedy befalls the school and he is forced to act quickly. Once his plan is put into motion, this mix of characters is forced to reevaluate their actions and their lives. A battle begins for their lives, futures, and well-beings. The fate of the entire community rests on all of their shoulders.


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Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Have you ever been a class mom? These women(or men) serve as the teacher’s right hand person and handle a lot of the grunt work. My mom was a class mom multiple times for both myself and my younger siblings. I remember her organizing parties, meeting with teachers, volunteering in my classrooms, and organizing events for me all throughout school. She was always busy and I thought she pulled everything together effortlessly. When I was looking for a new book to read and saw Class Mom by Laurie Gelman in the catalog, I decided to give it a try because I was feeling nostalgic about all the work that my mom put in to my classrooms when I was younger.

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman is a hilarious romp into the life of Jen Dixon. Jen is married to Ron, who she continuously refers to as her ‘first husband’ much to his annoyance. Jen and Ron have an adorable five-year-old son named Max who is just starting kindergarten. Jen is not new to the school system as she has two older daughters, by two different men, who are now in college. Jen had a lively youth following bands around the country and the world. Her two daughters were born as a result of her carefree younger days. Jen raised her two daughters with some help from her parents and when she met Ron, her life seemed to fall together pretty perfectly.

Now that Max is starting kindergarten, Jen finds herself being prodded into becoming class mom for Max’s class. Nina, the PTA president and Jen’s best friend, keeps telling Jen that the new parents have a lot to learn from Jen’s expertise and experience. Jen thinks that’s all baloney and it’s just because she’s older than the other parents that Nina is asking her to be class mom. Regardless of those factors, Jen soon finds herself as the class mom to Ms. Ward’s new class of kindergarteners!

Jen’s tenure as class mom is full of hilarity, snarkiness, offensive, and uproariously funny emails and interactions. She holds nothing back in her emails to the other class parents and is sure to note specific response times to her requests. Jen is responsible for assigning conference times, finding field-trip volunteers, and doing whatever the teacher Ms. Ward wants her to do.  She soon finds herself as the middle-man between Ms. Ward and the other class parents. The interactions between Jen and everyone at Max’s school are ripe with hilarity from Max’s supersexy kindergarten teacher who has a very odd way of running her classroom, an old flame of Jen’s popping up as one of the parents of another student, a mother whose son is severely allergic to almost everything, and two moms who Jen can never seem to tell apart! Outside of Jen’s interactions at Max’s school, Jen herself is struggling to get in shape to do a mud run to make up for last year’s disastrous attempt, trying to figure out what’s going on with her two older daughters, and working to keep her relationship solid with her husband. This book was very entertaining. Definitely recommended.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

 Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith is a mysterious, suspicious, relentless page turner of a book. Leo Demidov is an officer in Moscow’s MGB, the organizational precursor to the KGB. Leo is also a decorated hero of WWII with his picture plastered all over the newspaper. Working for the MGB in 1950s Stalinist Russia means that Leo’s life, and the life of everyone around him, is rife with fear and paranoia. Leo has a tiny bit of protection since he works for the MGB, but he is more than aware of how quickly the security afforded to him by his job can be snatched away.

The Soviet Union under Stalin’s rule lives under the heading that there is no crime. That simply isn’t true. Crime that happens is quickly quelled by the MGB and is usually stopped before it happens by quick capture and interrogation. Leo handles a variety of cases and on one of his missions, he is assigned to talk to the family of a young boy who died. The family is convinced that the boy was murdered, a fact made worse by the fact that the boy’s father works for Leo at the MGB. Tasked with making sure the family understands the boy’s death was an accident, Leo tries to get them to understand the situation.

Another of Leo’s cases puts him at odds with a different subordinate, to the point that the man seeks revenge. Forces come to a head and Leo’s steady life is rocked. Faced with the decision of whether or not to denounce his wife as an enemy spy, Leo seeks advice from his parents and wrestles with his decision. Leo is a believer in his country with his work record and military history backing up his beliefs. Asking him to denounce his wife has the potential to push him over the edge.

Circumstances collude to destroy Leo’s life. He is dispatched out of Moscow and exiled to a country village. Leo finds the body of a child killed in the same way as the young boy in Moscow, a fact that puts his whole demeanor on edge. The death he was forced to cover up in Moscow cannot be a coincidence and Leo soon believes a serial killer is after Russia’s children. The official government standpoint is that these deaths are a coincidence. This rankles Leo and sets him down a path to find the real killer, while he also works to keep he and his wife safe.

This book was a riveting read. Tom Rob Smith conveys the melancholy and oppressiveness of Stalin’s Soviet Union very well. Add in murder, espionage, intrigue, and suspense, this piece of thrilling historical fiction comes to life as Leo works to solve crime in a country where crime simply doesn’t exist. This is also the first book in a trilogy, so you can keep reading about Leo’s adventures (The other two are on my list!).


This book was made into a movie starring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman. It’s on my holds list! Hopefully they stayed somewhat true to the book.

 


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