‘Arrowood’ by Laura McHugh

a lmchSTORY: A haunting novel from the author of The Weight of Blood about a young woman’s return to her childhood home—and her encounter with the memories and family secrets it holds

Arrowood is the most ornate and grand of the historical houses that line the Mississippi River in southern Iowa. But the house has a mystery it has never revealed: It’s where Arden Arrowood’s younger twin sisters vanished on her watch twenty years ago—never to be seen again. After the twins’ disappearance, Arden’s parents divorced and the Arrowoods left the big house that had been in their family for generations. And Arden’s own life has fallen apart: She can’t finish her master’s thesis, and a misguided love affair has ended badly. She has held on to the hope that her sisters are still alive, and it seems she can’t move forward until she finds them. When her father dies and she inherits Arrowood, Arden returns to her childhood home determined to discover what really happened to her sisters that traumatic summer.

Arden’s return to the town of Keokuk—and the now infamous house that bears her name—is greeted with curiosity. But she is welcomed back by her old neighbor and first love, Ben Ferris, whose family, she slowly learns, knows more about the Arrowoods’ secrets and their small, closed community than she ever realized. With the help of a young amateur investigator, Arden tracks down the man who was the prime suspect in the kidnapping. But the house and the surrounding town hold their secrets close—and the truth, when Arden finds it, is more devastating than she ever could have imagined.

Arrowood is a powerful and resonant novel that examines the ways in which our lives are shaped by memory. As with her award-winning debut novel, The Weight of Blood, Laura McHugh has written a thrilling novel in which nothing is as it seems, and in which our longing for the past can take hold of the present in insidious and haunting ways.

REVIEW: At age 8, Arden Arrowood was there the day her twin sisters, Violet and Tabitha, just under 2 years of age, vanished. Arden said they were kidnapped by a man in a gold car. At the time, her family was living at Arrowood. Now at age 25, after the death of her father, Arden finds that she has inherited Arrowood, the huge family home built many years ago and located on a bluff on the Mississippi River in the town of Keokuk. Once a very prosperous town with large mansions, it has lost many businesses and become rather rundown. No one has lived in Arrowood since the family moved away not long after the disappearance of the twins. After an exhaustive search, the authorities were never able to find the girls.

Moving back to the home reopens many memories of Arden’s childhood there and makes her even more determined to find out what happened to her sisters. She meets Josh whose goal in life is to solve cold cases. The information he shares reopens old wounds but also makes her question more things. Her childhood friend and next door neighbor, Ben, still lives in town as does his mother. As the Arrowood family has been a part of the town for well over 100 years, they are well known and there is a lot of history here.

We meet people from the past and wonder if they know anything about the disappearance of the girls. The house itself is rather spooky but Arden is not afraid to live there. As more clues come to light, we think we know who was responsible.

I suspected the truth at one time but other clues seemed to knock that out. Do come and read this enthralling story and see if you can solve the mystery. It will truly keep you guessing right up to the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope other readers will as well.

Connie for b2b


‘The Widow’ by Fiona Barton

tw fbSTORY: When the police started asking questions, Jean Taylor turned into a different woman. One who enabled her and her husband to carry on, when more bad things began to happen…

But that woman’s husband died last week. And Jean doesn’t have to be her anymore.

There’s a lot Jean hasn’t said over the years about the crime her husband was suspected of committing. She was too busy being the perfect wife, standing by her man while living with the accusing glares and the anonymous harassment.

Now there’s no reason to stay quiet. There are people who want to hear her story. They want to know what it was like living with that man. She can tell them that there were secrets. There always are in a marriage.

The truth—that’s all anyone wants. But the one lesson Jean has learned in the last few years is that she can make people believe anything…

REVIEW: Glen and Jean Taylor have been married for a number of years and are childless. After trying for some time, Jean decided to be tested and Glen finally agreed as well. It turns out that Glen has a near-zero sperm count. Jean would love to adopt a child, but Glen is totally against it.

Glen works at a bank and always complains that his boss has it out for him. Jean works as a hairdresser. Glen has always been protective of Jean and insists that everything be neat and tidy. When Glen is fired from his job, he blames his boss but it appears that his anger has been increasing for some time now. Jean does all she can to keep him happy. He soon gets another job driving a delivery truck. However, Jean finds that Glen has been spending a lot of time on the computer downloading terrible porn.

When little 2-year-old, Bella goes missing from her front garden, the police and the press are all over it. People are interviewed, CCTV is checked and DI Bob Sparkes cannot let this go. Kate Waters is a reporter for the Daily Post and is good at getting people to open up.

When the finger of suspicion points to Glen, their lives become hell being hounded by the police and the press.

This story follows the investigation of Bella’s disappearance and the relentless work spanning several years that the police put into trying to find the little girl. We learn about the lives of Glen and Jean, DI Sparkes and reporter Kate Worth.

This is a fascinating story that kept me turning pages and not wanting to put the book down. The author has perfectly portrayed the life of someone who is addicted to porn. But, we don’t really know until the very end of the book if, indeed, Glen is guilty of kidnapping Bells. I have no intention of telling you either. You must read the book!

Connie for b2b

‘The Bourbon Thief’ by Tiffany Reisz

tbt trSTORY: When Cooper McQueen wakes up from a night with a beautiful stranger, it’s to discover he’s been robbed. The only item stolen—a million-dollar bottle of bourbon. The thief, a mysterious woman named Paris, claims the bottle is rightfully hers. After all, the label itself says it’s property of the Maddox family who owned and operated Red Thread Bourbon distillery since the last days of the Civil War until the company went out of business for reasons no one knows… No one except Paris.

In the small hours of a Louisville morning, Paris unspools the lurid tale of Tamara Maddox, heiress to the distillery that became an empire. But the family tree is rooted in tainted soil and has borne rotten fruit. Theirs is a legacy of wealth and power, but also of lies, secrets and sins of omission. The Maddoxes have bourbon in their blood—and blood in their bourbon. Why Paris wants the bottle of Red Thread remains a secret until the truth of her identity is at last revealed, and the century-old vengeance Tamara vowed against her family can finally be completed.

REVIEW: Cooper McQueen is a very wealthy man who loves a good bourbon. While sitting in his bar, he sees a lovely dark-skinned woman walk in. When she asks for a shot of Red Thread bourbon, she is told that it has not been made in many years. Cooper introduces himself to the woman, who calls herself Paris, and after some conversation, she agrees to meet him at his vast estate, Lockwood. She tells him she is a rich widow from Kentucky. When he teasingly asks her if she is after his money, she responds that he is after his bourbon – most specifically his prized possession of a one-million-dollar bottle of Red Thread Bourbon. It is the first bottle ever made. She claims to be part of the Maddox family who were the makers of Red Thread bourbon. She has inherited the business and begins to tells Cooper the story about the beginning of the Maddox family as follows:

Tamara Maddox, has just turned 16. Tamara and her mother, Virginia, have lived with her grandfather ever since her father passed away. Her mother and grandfather are always arguing. Tamara is spoiled and bothers Levi Shelby all the time demanding to ride her horse. Levi is much older than Tamara and works in the stables of her vast estate. When Tamara asks Levi for a birthday kiss, her mother catches them and is furious. She is given a choice of sending Levi away or she will shoot her beloved horse. Her mother explains to her that when her grandfather passes away, she will be the only Maddox left and it will be up to her to keep Red Thread going. But her grandfather has a even better plan to ensure the Maddox blood survives. When the truth comes out about the different family members, the shock is enormous.

After a night of violence at her home, Tamara runs away with Levi and thus begins her life of healing from the many disturbed members of the Maddox family.

This book is one that is quite mesmerizing. Starting from slave days to the present, we see the extent that men and women will go to to get what they want in life. The story is brutal at times, but expresses love as well. This historical novel is very good. I had some qualms about the character of Paris because I felt her actions conjured up racism where I don’t think it belonged in the story.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘Deliver Her: A Novel’ by Patricia Perry Donovan

dh ppdSTORY: On the night of Alex Carmody’s sixteenth birthday, she and her best friend, Cass, are victims of a terrible car accident. Alex survives; Cass doesn’t. Consumed by grief, Alex starts cutting school and partying, growing increasingly detached. The future she’d planned with her friend is now meaningless to her.

Meg Carmody is heartbroken for her daughter, even as she’s desperate to get Alex’s life back on track. The Birches, a boarding school in New Hampshire, promises to do just that, yet Alex refuses to go. But when Meg finds a bag of pills hidden in the house, she makes a fateful call to a transporter whose company specializes in shuttling troubled teens to places like The Birches, under strict supervision. Meg knows Alex will feel betrayed—as will her estranged husband, who knows nothing of Meg’s plans for their daughter.

When the transport goes wrong—and Alex goes missing—Meg must face the consequences of her decision and her deception. But the hunt for Alex reveals that Meg is not the only one keeping secrets.

REVIEW: Alex Carmody is a very unhappy and depressed teenage girl. The Sweet Sixteen party that was given for her ended up in tragedy. She and her best friend, Cass, and other friends, Shana, and her brother went out for Slurpies after the party. Shana and Alex had been drinking but Cass and the boy driving had not. An accident occurred. Cass was without a seat belt and was thrown from the car. She died from her injuries. Alex had a cut on her forehead. Since then, Alex cannot stop blaming herself for Cass’s death. She is devastated and is unable to surface from it.

Meg and Jacob are Alex’s parents. Meg is a nurse and Jacob is in construction. For some time now, their marriage has been failing. Currently, Jacob sleeps in the basement. They are still in the same house only because Jacob’s dwindling jobs have left him unable to afford his own place.

Meg has done everything she can to help Alex and try to get her to open up to counselors, all to no avail. She skips school, smokes, drinks when she can and literally hangs out at the cemetery lying on Cass’s grave. Meg is very worried and is at her wit’s end. The last straw is when she finds a bag of pills hidden in the sofa in the basement and figures it belongs to Alex. So, when she sees a place called The Birches, located in New Hampshire, which is a school for emotionally disturbed teens, she seriously considers it. Jacob is totally against it, but trying to discuss anything with him is always a battle. Meg also finds a transporting service that has lots of experience in picking up people to be delivered to The Birches. After talking with the owner, Carl, she realizes that using this method of having two unknown people take Alex to the school is better than trying to do it herself. So, she arranges for it.

When Carl and another woman come to take Alex, she is surprised that her mother would do this to her but finally relents and gets into the car for the several hour trip. As the hours pass, the weather deteriorates. Suddenly, a moose is in the middle of the road and the car hits it. Carl has a cut on his head, the woman is critically injured, and Alex has escaped.

Where could she be? How can they find her in the middle of this ice storm?

This is a good story. I gave it five stars because it is a well-written plot, although I think it was much too long. However, this is a problem that faces many parents today who are looking for answers as to how to help their troubled children. I think that parents might benefit from reading this. It truly is an eye-opener.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘Most Wanted’ by Lisa Scottoline

mw lsSTORY: When a woman and her husband, desperate for a baby, find themselves unable to conceive, they decide to take further steps. Since it is the husband who is infertile, the heroine decides to use a donor. And all seems to be well.

Three months pass and she is happily pregnant. But a shocking revelation occurs when she discovers that a man arrested for a series of brutal murders is her donor – the biological father of the child she is carrying.

Delving deeper to uncover the truth, the heroine must face her worst fears, and confront a terrifying truth.

REVIEW: Christine Nilsson has been a teacher at Nutmeg Hill Elementary School for 8 years and is preparing to leave her job. Now that she is finally pregnant, she wants to be a full-time Mom. She and her husband, Marcus, have tried for 3 years for this to happen. An architectural engineer, he owns his own firm. Finding out that he is infertile and after counseling and lots of thought, they decide to go with a sperm donor with physical traits matching their own. The insemination works and Christine immediately gets pregnant. When selecting a donor, they see his current picture and read some answers to questions that were posed to him. He is known only to them as Donor 3319. But when on a newsflash, she recognizes a newly captured serial killer of nurses as her future baby’s father, she is shocked.

It turns out that sperm donors are not given psychological testing like egg donors are so Christine and Marcus fear that their baby could carry the donor father’s genes with a tendency toward mental health issues. While Marcus sympathizes with Christine, she does not feel he totally understands her worry and so she sets out on a venture to meet the accused killer and see if he actually is Donor 3319.

We follow her and she and her friend, Lauren, travel to the prison where he is being held and by saying they are free-lance writers, get to visit with him. She is convinced he is innocent and then undertakes to prove his innocence.

The story becomes quite involved with all of the people with direct knowledge of the nurse killed. The author has obviously researched this situation in great depth the information she passes along in the novel is fascinating.

I enjoyed the story and especially liked Lauren. She is what one truly calls a best friend. My second favorite character is Griff. What a lovable teddy bear.

I not only enjoyed a great novel that kept me on the edge of my seat right through to the end, but I also learned a lot as well.

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

Connie for b2b

‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty

lm bllSTORY: Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal. . . 
A murder…  a tragic accident… or just parents behaving badly?
What’s indisputable is that someone is dead. But who did what?

Big Little Lies follows three women, each at a crossroads:   Madeline is a force to be reckoned with. She’s funny and biting, passionate, she remembers everything and forgives no one. Her ex-husband and his yogi new wife have moved into her beloved beachside community, and their daughter is in the same kindergarten class as Madeline’s youngest (how is this possible?). And to top it all off, Madeline’s teenage daughter seems to be choosing Madeline’s ex-husband over her. (How. Is. This. Possible?).

Celeste is the kind of beautiful woman who makes the world stop and stare. While she may seem a bit flustered at times, who wouldn’t be, with those rambunctious twin boys? Now that the boys are starting school, Celeste and her husband look set to become the king and queen of the school parent body. But royalty often comes at a price, and Celeste is grappling with how much more she is willing to pay.   New to town, single mom Jane is so young that another mother mistakes her for the nanny. Jane is sad beyond her years and harbors secret doubts about her son. But why? While Madeline and Celeste soon take Jane under their wing, none of them realizes how the arrival of Jane and her inscrutable little boy will affect them all.

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

REVIEW: This novel is set in the small seaside town of Pirriwee in Sydney Australia and the story centers around the parents of children attending Pirriwee Public (elementary) School.  We first meet several mothers of rising kindergarten students as it leads up to the first day of school.  On the first day of school, one little girl accuses a little boy of trying to choke her and the uproar begins.  Some parents are on one side and some on another.  We get to know the individual mothers, their children, fathers, and school personnel.  Each of these characters have been perfectly portrayed by the author.
I have compared the book to one I read recently that centered around the humor of “playground politics” – “The Hive” by Gill Hornby.  This was a great read, however, “Big Little Lies” is much deeper than that.
As the story progresses toward the big Trivia night, we learn that a tragedy has happened but we don’t know what.  The answer is toward the end of the book of course so you have to hang in there and get to it.  Believe me, it’s definitely worth waiting for.
The lives of some of these mothers are laid open for readers to examine and see how they really live versus how others may think they live.  Many obstacles faced by these families are ones that many of us face today.  One, as you will learn, is much worse than the usual.
To me, reading each page was like unwrapping yet another layer to get down to a deep, dark secret.  The book was written so smoothly and in a totally engrossing manner.  I didn’t want to stop reading for a second and before I knew it, I had devoured a near-500 page book.
I’m trying to be very careful to not give out any spoilers here.  I just hope that you will open this novel and learn the secret.  I promise you that it will be a book you long remember.
Connie for b2b
Complementary copy received from Chick Lit Central

‘The Winter People’ by Jennifer McMahon

jmcm twpSTORY: The New York Times bestselling author of Promise Not to Tell returns with a simmering literary thriller about ghostly secrets, dark choices, and the unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters . . . sometimes too unbreakable.

West Hall, Vermont, has always been a town of strange disappearances and old legends. The most mysterious is that of Sara Harrison Shea, who, in 1908, was found dead in the field behind her house just months after the tragic death of her daughter, Gertie. Now, in present day, nineteen-year-old Ruthie lives in Sara’s farmhouse with her mother, Alice, and her younger sister, Fawn. Alice has always insisted that they live off the grid, a decision that suddenly proves perilous when Ruthie wakes up one morning to find that Alice has vanished without a trace. Searching for clues, she is startled to find a copy of Sara Harrison Shea’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of her mother’s bedroom. As Ruthie gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, she discovers that she’s not the only person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. But she may be the only one who can stop history from repeating itself.

REVIEW: Sara Harrison Shea lived in West Hall, Vermont.  In 1908, she was savagely murdered.  She was only 31.  The story goes that she was married and the mother of two deceased children.  The loss of her children affected her deeply.  Her son passed away when he was a baby.  However, when at age 9, her daughter, Gertie, was found dead at the bottom of a well, her sanity was pushed over the edge.  People say that Sara’s ghost is still with us.

Ruthie Washburne now lives in Sara’s house with her Mom and her little sister.  Her father passed away recently and her Mom has always been very strict with her.  Her parents have preferred to live their lives in a  private way and have even eschewed many modern necessities such as the internet.  While Ruthie doesn’t believe the ghost stories about Sara, she is very wary of the thick woods behind the house.  When one day her mother vanishes, she and her sister, aided by her boyfriend, begin a search for her. They find a diary of Sara’s and other items in the house that takes them deeper into a story that opens a world of fear that terrifies Ruthie.

The tale of Sara reaches out even further to touch the lives of Katherine and Gary.  They had lost their young son to leukemia a few years back and are grief stricken.  Gary seems to be the one having the most difficult time with the loss.  When one day he fails to return home, Katherine finds that he has been killed in an auto accident in an an area unknown to her – West Hall, Vermont.  Katherine is determined to uncover the mystery of why he was there.

All of these lives weave together to find all the pieces of Sara’s diary and uncover the truth that has been hidden for such a long time.

This story was magnificent.  It switches back and forth from present day to 1908 as the reader learns new clues that solves this mystery in an edge-of-the-seat way.  I highly recommend it!

*Connie for b2b

*Book provided by my local library.