We Were Mothers by Katie Sise

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: Need a can’t-put-down read? I read this in a few days. Get past the first chapters, and you won’t be able to put it down. It gets better and better.

Skip factor:  0% I skipped not a word.

Who should read:  Readers who don’t mind multiple characters. Mothers and grandmothers.

Summary: The story opens at a birthday party for two-year-old twins, Lucy and George. All of the major characters are in attendance. The twins’ mother, Cora, finds someone has left the diary of her babysitter, Mira, on her bed during the party. The diary has one entry, and it is about Cora’s husband, Sam.

While Cora delves into the truth of the entry, the story turns to Mira’s parents, neighbors Laurel & Dash, who have a secret of their own. A bedroom secret—Dash is more than a little rough during love-making.

Switch to Jade & Jeremy. Jade’s best friend Maggie (Cora’s sister) was killed in an automobile accident. Jade is now close with Cora and Maggie’s mother, Sarah. Jeremy is the hunk of a guy whom every woman at the party secretly watches. Both Jade and Jeremy hide secrets, too.

As if those storylines aren’t enough, the day after the birthday party, Mira disappears.

Characters:  As in many beginnings, it was hard to keep the characters straight. Here’s a key to help readers keep the main three couples straight:

Cora & Sam
              Kids Lucy & George
              Sarah is Cora’s mom. Her dad, Clark, is remarried to Abby.
Laurel and Dash
              Kids Anna & Mira
Jade & Jeremy
              No kids. Jade was best friends with Maggie. Jeremy is hot.  

The characters in the order I liked them:

Cora is a woman who is content being a mother of twins. She misses her sister Maggie who died in a car accident. You can’t help but feel for her.
Jade is a quiet, kind woman who also misses Maggie. She’s married to the good-looking Jeremy, whom right off the bat you feel doesn’t deserve her.
Laurel is a fast-moving, busy woman who hides her bruises to the world—and herself.
Sarah is Cora’s mother. A divorced sixty-something who, understandably, immerses herself in Cora’s life after her daughter Maggie is killed in a car crash.
Mira is the babysitter who disappears. She comes on strong but as the story unfolds, you feel less disdain for her.

Storyline:  An excellent, complicated-yet-believable story with dark twists and turns to keep you paging through. The author skillfully thrusts the lives of, at-first, seemingly normal families into chaotic suspense that grabs your attention and won’t let go. Sise unfolds the complexity of the characters so slowly that the read seems effortless and easy.  

Writing:  Excellent. The perfect combination of dialogue and description. The story flows smoothly, and while the storyline is complex, the writing is flawless. Loved.

Read this author again? Yes, yes, yes. I’ll read anything Sise writes from here on out. Especially her suspense novels.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

8

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Rating:                              8

General Rating: A page-turner that all begins with a game. Then gets worse.

Skip factor:  5% I skipped a tad of description and protagonist thoughts between pages 150 and 280. Up until then, nothing. After, just a tad as I dashed toward the meat of the story.

Who should read:  Mystery and thriller fans, and writers who enjoy good writing/description.

Summary: A sexy new neighbor, Angelica Roux, turns up on Amy Whey’s doorstep on book-club night. She completely obliterates the night’s agenda and initiates a game…Never have I ever…seems she knows a little bit about the book-club members. The game resembles truth or dare, only with a handful of adult women who are hiding more secrets than thought possible in one upper, middle-class neighborhood.   

Characters:  Here’s a first. I grew to dislike the main character, Amy. Fond of her in the beginning, by page 150 I’d decide I didn’t care for her at all. I actually loved this about the book! Here are a few of the characters and for the first time ever, I’m beginning with those I liked the least.

Roux is the antagonist, who is blackmailing several women. She’s beautiful, fit, and cunning. She rents a home in the neighborhood with her son Luka. Readers quickly gather the only reason for her rental is to blackmail Amy. She’s abrasive and curt. You dislike her instantly.

Panda and the other neighbor ladies are interspersed throughout. I didn’t care for any of them. Snobby and uppity, when the story reveals a few of them were being blackmailed, too, I could have cared less, which is what I’m sure the author intended.   

Amy is the main character. She is the wife of decent and kind Davis, mother of eight-month-old Oliver, and stepmother of fifteen-year-old Madison. From the beginning, she is a loyal friend to Char, but as the pages slip quickly by, you realize she has a coldness about her, a detachment.

Char is Amy’s best friend. She’s pregnant, a tad matronly, and the perfect organizer of the book club. Strung a bit too tight, right off the bat you know her gorgeous husband might cause her some strife.

Luka and Maddie are the teenagers who drift in and out of the story. Luke is Roux’s son, nice-looking, fairly respectful but you’ll worry about his intentions. Maddie is Davis’s daughter and Amy’s stepdaughter. She portrays a too-kind-to-her-stepmother teenage girl, affectionately referring to Amy as stepmonster, hardly ever defiance in her. (Having raised two daughters of my own, this was unbelievable to me.)

Davis and Tig are the men in Amy’s life. Good guys. I liked them both.   

Storyline: This is a book you spend dissecting, trying to understand the characters. Everyone has a past they’d like to sweep out the front door, and Roux knows it. She’s a professional blackmailer and infiltrates Amy’s world because, well, you just know Amy has a secret. Roux also gathers dirt on several of the other neighbor ladies and uses the information to blackmail them. However, the entanglement at the end—revealing Roux’s own sordid past–will surprise even the best mystery solvers.

What kept me reading, was Jackson’s unveiling of Amy’s backstory. I read the first half of this novel quickly to decipher what her secret was.

Writing:  I absolutely loved Jackson’s writing. She uses metaphors for description to perfection. The story too, is infectious. Once you’re exposed to the characters’ plights, you become thirsty for more. So thirsty, that in the second half of the book, despite loving her writing, I found myself skipping all of that wonderful metaphor-laden description, which seemed too weighty when all I wanted was more clues to the suspenseful storyline.

In the end, I juggled the 5-star good writing and great storyline against the unlikeable characters and believability factor (could there be that many dark secrets in a circle of friends?) and I landed on a solid four stars.   

Read this author again? My response may be a little odd for my 4-star rating…hmmm…probably yes.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Where the Crawdads Sing

Name:                        Where the Crawdads Sing

Author:                      Delia Owens

Rating:                       8

General Rating:

What’s all the fuss about? I liked this book. I did. But, meh, wait until the dust settles to read. I was over 2000 on the waiting list at the Philadelphia Free Library to borrow this book. It’s not that wait worthy. I give this an 8 only because I loved the writing. In comparison, I looked forward to reading it as much as I did Baldacci’s Absolute Power and Moriarity’s The Hypnotist’s Love Story. I liked the plot and story in the other two more, but Crawdads had the best writing, by far.

Skip factor:               

3% I could not take all the marsh information. I tried but TMI.

Who should read:            

Most women and especially any back-to-nature people. (Back-to-nature folks will skip 0%.)

Summary:  This is the story of a ten-year-old girl, Kya, who is deserted in a North Carolina marshland and must learn to survive on her own. Her mother and siblings leave by the time Kya is six. Her father stays, but comes and goes until finally, he leaves for good when she is ten. To prevent a spoiler, I’ll summarize by saying she befriends a kind boy who teaches her to read, a not-so-kind boy who says he loves her but doesn’t, and a few other people in a nearby town who help her survive until she creates a way to sustain herself.

CharactersI did not feel a connection with any of them:

Kya Clark –  Kya is a strong female character with aloof qualities that living in solitude might relay. She does not have a big personality. Yet, you root for this ten-year-old. She must learn survival skills on her own. And while she is somewhat unbelievable to me, the author was so knowledgeable about wildlife and the marshlands she had me wonder if a child could survive out there alone.

Chase Andrews – Chase, who loves the marshland, befriends Kya, teaches her to read, and falls in love with her before going away to college. He promises to say goodbye and then—going against every grain of his character—doesn’t. He leaves but much later redeems himself. I won’t say how. No spoilers.

Other characters – I didn’t like Tate, which I’m sure the author intended. I liked the man at the store (although obviously not that much as I can’t remember his name) and his wife Mabel but didn’t feel the connection with them I thought the author was trying to evoke. I liked the police investigators, and although there were times they were funny, I didn’t love them.

Storyline: Is it believable? No, but here’s where I go against my grain. Typically, I pay no mind to where an author went to school or grew up. I’ve read lots of books written by Ivy School grads that I DNF. But because I loved Owens’ writing, I googled her to find out how she learned to mix words so well. Astonishingly, I found she’s a zoologist. So I sat back and reevaluated the storyline. Is it believable?

Still no. To be believable, Kya 1) would have been more aloof and recluse (a duller story) and 2)  would have had much more trouble alone in that marshland (a more depressing story). Additionally, Chase walking away without even a goodbye but continuing to love her for years? Fairy tale fiction.

Writing style:    The writing is flawless and that is why this is worth the read. I loved her dialogue, and while, again, I am not a fan of setting description, the author’s wonderful word mixing led me much deeper into scene description than I would go for any other author. Sometimes, in those marsh descriptions that I typically would have loathed, I found myself saying, “Wow, what a clever way to describe that,” which is the only reason I skipped so little.

There is also clever symbolism between the marsh and life that is worth a ponder.

Read this author again: Because I loved her writing, I’ll try reading another of this author’s books. If there is too much nature-loving description in that one, I’ll give it a miss and return it to the library early. However, I’ll just quietly walk away. Won’t add it to my Books I Almost Read category. Her writing is too good to tarnish with a DNF.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a paranormal element. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.