After an unexpected inheritance, struggling artist Layla ends up on a road trip with her half-sister, who was raised by their father, a man many years in prison and completely estranged from Layla. She may finally learn the details of her mother’s death, and perhaps find a second chance at family. Castrodale keeps up the adrenaline with the ambiguity turning Layla’s heart around and the terrifying people connected to her father. I recommend this story I was fortunate to receive from the publisher Imbrifex Books through NetGalley.
Caroline and Sela are half-sisters, but only Sela knows this. Caroline finds out through a DNA test, and her life paradigm shifts. Sela needs her for a kidney transplant. Strawser is brilliant at portraying the harrowing unleashing of secrets, maintaining tension throughout the story, with a tiny cliffhanger at the end of each chapter that keeps the reader engaged. I highly recommend anything by her. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher St. Martin’s Press through NetGalley.
Amber comes to from a coma, but realizes that she is not awake, only aware. While in her hospital bed, she hears her husband and sister discuss mysterious happenings related to her car accident. Flashbacks to a week before bring the reader up to date slowly through an unreliable narrator. Journal entries from childhood fill in blanks and spew a haze of ambiguity regarding the sisters, until the reader is delightfully confused and enlightened repeatedly, like the proverbial roller coaster ride. Feeney plops out a big, ole’ shocker at the end—twice!—that makes the reader go, “Hmm…” It’s a fun read and worth the time to try to figure out what’s going on between the sisters, and if anyone is trustworthy, or if all of them are constantly scheming. The journal is brilliantly done, without revealing anything. Much murder and mayhem ensue, beyond the family, a deliciously wicked family. I was fortunate to receive an advanced copy from the publisher of this fantastic novel.
Anna “Bencke” Grieve’s life changed after Tsar Alexander II’s assassination. In fear for their lives as Jews, her mother, a privileged servant, asked her employers Count and Countess Chernovski to take Bencke and her older sister Esther with them to Canada. The Chernovski’s later adopt them, believing their parents to be dead. Bencke does her best to care for Esther, who suffers episodes from traumatic memories that incapacitate her at times, as she herself tries to fit her eccentric personality into Countess Chernovski’s picture perfect household. Decades later, Anna receives a phone call from the Winnipeg police informing her that her sister has committed suicide by stepping in front of a train. She heads to Canada seeking the truth. The story alternates between this investigation and a backstory of a life fully lived, from Anna’s forced relocation to NYC, to circumstances causing her to be deported to Russia during WWI. In the investigation, Anna learns her sister’s secrets and must live with them now.
Chisvin brings history to life in Anna’s story, as dear reader sees her torn from her family as a child after her country’s leader is killed and Jews are blamed, and as an activist for women’s rights alongside Margaret Sanger. She becomes a part of the melting pot that is NYC, falls into the fear of Americans who deport her in the war, and witnesses the disorder of Russia as essentially an outsider. Chisvin brings closure to Anna in her mixed emotions of finally being free of her sister as it breaks her heart. The last line of the book is brilliant in its imagery of this closure.
I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this beautiful story from the publisher through NetGalley.
Megan’s health changes drastically with a heart transplant, yet she still feels unable to challenge herself. When she meets the donor’s parents, who share their daughter’s diary, she decides to fulfill the girl’s bucket list of traveling desires. Her mother is horrified, her father supportive, and her twin sister Crystal asking to go with her to resolve their estrangement and remove herself from her own problems. The destinations exceed Megan’s expectations and the journey allows the sister to open up to each other, enabling Crystal to fully become her own person, not merely part of her sick sister’s support system.
This is a lovely story of a family in a years-long limbo waiting for a gift from a stranger, the situation stifling the organic evolution of a sibling relationship. Complicated emotions build tensions to a breaking point, and a growing friendship between heart transplant recipients is presented well.
I received a digital ARC through NetGalley. Note that this is a Christian novel (I missed that tag).
Lovey allows herself to be chased from her childhood home in Oxford, Mississipi by her older sister Bitsy’s inexplicable animosity. Though she calls foul on sibling rivalry, her parents don’t back her up, making Lovey feel damaged. When their mother’s garden shed burns to the ground after their friends Fisher and Finn barely make it out, Bitsy blames Lovey and no one protests, leaving her alone for years wallowing in the injustice. Bitsy uses Finn’s injuries to fuel Lovey’s guilt, prompting her move to another state, another life, away from his brother Fisher, who asked Lovey to marry him. Emotions run rampant through Lovey as she tries to balance her current life and the one she ran scared from decades ago. Her parents convince her to return home for their 50th wedding anniversary party. She complies, facing her lost love and antagonistic sister. When she’s called to return to work to resolve a hostile takeover by the boss of her ad campaign project, her father changes her mind when he confesses that her mother is terminally ill. She stays, determined to treasure every last moment with her mother, making a truce with her sister, and dealing haphazardly with Fisher’s current “it’s complicated” relationship status. Lovey continues to bond with her mother over their shared love of gardening, with life lessons inspired by gardening and favorite local writers Welty and Faulkner sprinkled throughout the book by both parents. Religious themes run a bit strong in this story and can be distracting, assuming that readers are Christian and accepting of religiosity as part of the lessons. Lovey makes a breakthrough with her father after a particularly hurtful encounter with Bitsy, which starts her healing process. She is home. This is her home. Everything comes together, albeit some of it a bit too easily, as there are decades of pent-up hurt to be worked through, especially for the sisters.
This novel lays a family bare across the lush backdrop of a Mississippi farm, with floral imagery cascading over it all, a tragic history made bigger by time, southern literary greats explored, and long ago loves who may not be lost.
Tig Monahan just put her mother into a home, lost a boyfriend to Hawaii, and gained a newborn from a runaway sister. After leaving her job for the boyfriend who leaves her, Tig falls into the position of radio psychology host, where she blossoms, but also learns a harsh lesson about the limitations of radio. She must find herself to put her life back in order, and let go of trying to control everything and everyone. When she finally opens up, her family relations, romance, and friendships fuel her rather than burden her.
I love how Garvin sucks the reader into the chaos that is Tig’s life, investing the reader in Tig’s welfare as she comes to realize that she doesn’t have to do everything and she doesn’t have to please everyone. As Tig learns to accept others as they are, as well as herself, things naturally settle down.
Readers who like to see stubborn characters grow and evolve into better versions of themselves will love this book. Garvin brings the reader to an unexpected and promising ending.
Alice wakes from a daydream of the beach to a painful head in an unfamiliar gym, with a colleague peering down at her. She fell off her bike in spin class and misplaced the last decade in her brain. Current events are not so current, and Alice learns some astonishing facts about the world and popular culture. Over the following week, she discovers some harsh truths about that decade from family, friends, and neighbors. As she slowly gains insight into her own life and troubled relations with her loved ones, the soul searching begins. When the memories hit all at once, Alice is stunned and reasserts herself as she merges her 29-year-old self with her 39-year old self.
Now this is how you open a novel! Moriarty begins the story with Alice floating in a pool, listening to a man playing Marco Polo with kids, knowing that the someone next to her with toenails painted different colors like her own is a person she loves. As the dreamlike sequence morphs into a painfully realistic nightmare of Alice’s confusion at finding herself in a gym, where she would never expect to be, the reader is pulled into the confusion and learns the truths as Alice learns them. Brilliant! Along with the facts presented to the memory-challenged Alice, secrets are unveiled, strengthening relationships and urging everyone forward toward positive opportunities.
Readers who wish to be invested deeply in the main character’s life will love this book. If you are fond of secrets, humorous references to current (and not so current) events, and gut-wrenching situations, this book is for you. Moriarty will have you laughing and crying out loud!
The prickling at the back of my neck started about twenty miles from my destination. Though I’d been driving through the night, I was wired as though on triple espresso. Anticipation kept me wide awake. Mom’s threat to haunt me literally came true. She was waiting at the gate to Everton Cemetery, shimmering in the moonlight, just like last year, and the year before, and the first year before that.
The moment I stepped from the car, she was calling to me, “Honey Bear, you made it!” I hate that name, and now I would hear it for the rest of my life, not just the rest of hers. Asking her meant absolutely nothing. I may as well have asked my cat to stop meowing. She loved that name. Ugh
“Come in. Come in. I’ve missed you so much.”
“How does that work exactly?”
And then she was hugging me, ghost style, moving her diaphanous self through me like ice water. I shivered and clenched my teeth.
“Stop clenching your teeth. You’ll give yourself a headache.”
“I can’t help it. You’re freezing me.”
“Oh, you’ll get used to it. Eventually.”
“I don’t actually think I will. Ever.”
“Sit. Sit.” She patted the stone at her grave. “I feel so much ‘more’ closer to my resting place.”
“I don’t even want to know what that means.” I set the ledge of my butt across the top of the stone. “Tell me again how this happened.”
She sighs. “Must we go over this every year?”
I nod vigorously. “Yes, because this is so far outside of what I believed was reality. It still feels like a dream.”
“You’ll get used to it, I swear.”
“I don’t think I will, Mom. I can never tell anyone. Who would believe me?”
Another sigh and she attempts again an explanation. “I panicked. There was so much confusion. You have no idea how confusing dying can be.”
“Yes, I can only imagine.” My hands are on my head pushing my hair back. “Except I have you to tell me from firsthand experience, which shouldn’t be happening.”
She reaches for my hands to pull them away, a familiar gesture, but this time eliciting only the shivering and teeth clenching. So she puts down her arms, steps back, and gently shakes her head.
“The choices offered made no sense until my kids were mentioned. After that, I kept nodding until I signed a contract.”
“Really? Signed a contract. Tell me again how that worked.”
Another sigh and she twirls in a circle, which honestly was fun to watch, the shimmer spiraling. “The paper appeared in front of me and I signed with my finger, just like magic, you know, in that show about that witch that you liked when you were a teenager.” I nodded, recalling my favorite after-school show.
“Did it sparkle, like a magic wand?”
“We go over this every year.” Her hands lay in front of her, palms up, beseeching. “We have only two hours. Please let’s talk about your life.”
“Okay, okay.” She leans back as though against something, in a reclining position on air, an action that makes me inexplicably jealous. “I’m still working at the same place, which is why I get my birthday off still. So no worries.” I give her my best ‘anything for you’ look, pouting just a touch.
“I’m not going to apologize again for having you at 3am. That was not my choice.” She reaches up and behind her, as though around a giant ball, in a melodramatic gesture. “The deal is made. You have to be here at 3am. That is also not my choice. You’re the one who moved so far away from home.”
The stone is making my butt numb. I’ve been here only half an hour and the sandman is sprinkling me. I yawn.
“Don’t you dare fall asleep. You know I cannot control the consequences.” My hands return to my head, pushing back my hair.
“Put your hands down.” I stand up and do jumping jacks. That helps. I try not to think about the wailing in my dreams, reminiscent of my night terrors as a child.
“Okay, if I start to nod off, hug me.” She nods, tight-lipped.
I tell her more about my life, which really doesn’t change all that much, especially in only a year. Then I ask about my baby sister.
“She doesn’t come. Still. I guess night terrors for only half an hour are not enough to convince her.” Her sigh this time sounds more wistful. “She was such an easy birth. Half an hour. Boom!”
Halfway done, I think, as I look at my watch. Fortunately, I am more awake now and enjoying the company of my deceased mother. I’m feeling a pang of guilt, and a little mirth, at the though of my older sister whose birth took 21 hours.