Monday, June 19, 2017

The Party by Robyn Harding

This book expertly illustrates how "trying to fit in" and "having it all" can go terribly wrong.  Jeff and Kim Sanders plan a small sweet 16 sleepover for their daughter Hannah.  Kim, who is extremely controlling and prides herself on her mothering, reads the riot act about alcohol, drugs and boys - then has a glass of wine and an Ambient and hears nothing else before Hannah awakes her in tears, blood on her hands.

Jeff  is extremely unhappy in his marriage because he feels Kim is treating him like one of the children after a transgression about a year before.  Behind Kim's back he buys Hannah and her friends a bottle of champagne to share at the party.

Hannah is trying desperately to get in with the popular girls, Lauren and Ronni.  So will do anything to impress them - including asking her other less popular friends to make sure they act like mature "mean girls" too.

Not unexpectedly things get out of control at the party and Ronni is severely injured.  Her single mother is angry and wants to blame someone so sues Jeff and Kim for three million dollars - money they would only have if they liquidate every asset they accumulated in building the comfortable life they so cherish.

The remainder of the book deals with the aftermath of the party and the lawsuit.  It brings to light secrets of many of the people involved and shows the tensions between family members, friends and even co-workers.  I particularly liked the ending which seemed to show growth on the part of the parents, but that Hannah, who during the lawsuit was actually more mature than the adults involved, was still vulnerable to peer pressure.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Secrets in Summer by Nancy Thayer

I know summer has arrived when I get to read the newest novels by my favourite beach read authors. Nancy Thayer's newest was not her best, but I still enjoyed returning to Nantucket for a summer of beaches, secrets, love and flings.

Darcy Cotterill is a 30 year old children's librarian living in her late grandmother's house on Nantucket.  She had a difficult childhood - abandoned by her father and transferred from one flaky relative to another as her mother pursued a string of men.  Eventually at age 10 she ended up with her paternal grandmother Penny in the house in Nantucket where she first felt a sense of security and was able to fully indulge her love of books.

In her early twenties, just shy of completing her degree in library science, Darcy married Boyz, a handsome high flying real estate agent who, together with his close and boisterous family, swept her off her feet.  It wasn't long before Boyz and Darcy realized they were completely incompatible and Boyz left her for Autumn, an older woman with a daughter, Willow.

Darcy is out in her garden one summer when she learns that Boyz, Autumn and Willow have rented the home behind her for the summer.

In the remainder of the book we read about the complex relationship Darcy develops with 14 year old Willow, her elderly summer neighbour and her grandson, the neighbour on the other side whose husband has an affair with Autumn and Darcy's lawyer turned carpenter boyfriend, Nash.  Though it is called the summer of secrets, none of the narrative is terribly surprising.  But that's what makes it a relaxing poolside read.

Blue Trust by Stevie Cameron

This is an old book which I happened to come across and decided it looked interesting.  It tells the rather tragic story of Bruce and Lynne Verchere.  While it is written in a rather sensationalistic journalism style, the story is for the most part compelling.  At times I felt it got bogged down in name dropping and I lost track of who people were, but then the index at the end came in handy for looking back at when a person was first introduced.

Bruce Verchere was a "brilliant" tax lawyer in the late 1980s.  I put the brilliant in quotations as I think many might argue his clever tax planning strategies were too clever and crossed the line.  He formed a law firm in Montreal and tried very hard to get rich and to fit in with the well-to-do Westmount crowd.  His wife was the one who really made the money though.  She was a software expert ahead of her time, particularly for a woman.  And aided by a relationship she nurtured with IBM she developed and sold law firm management software.  Eventually she was able to sell the company for the kind of money Bruce needed to fuel his extravagant lifestyle.

Where Lynne was not so smart, was in trusting her husband's assurances that he was moving her money around for tax and estate planning purposes.  In fact he was robbing her blind - to fuel his relationships with other women and to sate his appetite for the finer things in life (homes, planes, yachts...).  Everything came to head when he fell in love with the daughter of his famous client, Arthur Hailey.  Hailey didn't approve of the relationship as he feared Verchere was after his fortune too, but his daughter was in love and eventually became pregnant with twins.

At this time Verchere's wife clued into the money situation and threatened serious legal consequences unless Bruce left his mistress and returned to her.  He did - abandoning Diane with no money of her own and pregnant with twins.  Verchere wasn't able to last long with his wife and shot himself in the head on the day the twins were born.

This is an interesting story of greed, deception, naiveté and other human failings and how they can get in the way.  It wasn't a fantastic book, more like a long newspaper article, but it had its moments.

Monday, June 5, 2017

War of the Wives by Tamar Cohen

When I returned the last book I read, Dying for Christmas, I didn't have any other books on hand and one by the same author was available so I decided to pick it up.  You should note that the "Tammy" Cohen who wrote Dying for Christmas, is the same person as "Tamar" Cohen who wrote War of the Wives.  In fact I enjoyed this book much more.  While it had the same unexpected plot twists, it was not nearly as dark which is more my style.

Selina has been married to Simon Busfield for 28 years; they have three children, Felix, Flora and Josh.  While Simon spends half his time traveling, Selina keeps busy running her family's lives, decorating her home, exercising and doing charity work.  It is only when she is advised in the middle of the night that Simon has been found drowned in the Thames that she discovers her whole marriage was a sham.  Lottie shows up at his funeral, with her daughter Sadie in tow, claiming to have been married to Simon for 17 years.  Sadie is his daughter.  It turns out that rather than traveling on business half his life, Simon was instead spending it with his other family.

The remainder of the book deals with how the women cope with the enormous betrayal and re-examine their lives in light of the new information.  Interestingly they turn to each other at times - as in fact the other woman is the only one who can fully understand how she feels.  We also see how the children cope with the news of their new half siblings - some better than others.  And we slowly learn of the other secrets Simon had - affairs, money problems, shady business dealings and blackmail.  Finally the mystery of his death is also solved.

I don't want to give away any more of the plot, but I really liked this book.  It is well written, well paced and the characters are fascinating.  I recommend this one over her other book if you are only choosing to read one.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Dying for Christmas by Tammy Cohen

Though this book is not my usual style, it came highly recommended by an acquaintance so I decided to give it a try.  It is a psychological thriller, or maybe best described as a character study.  It reminded me most of Gone Girl the way all my assumptions were turned around in the second half.  In some ways I thought it was better written as the twists were even more unpredictable.  That being said, it should not surprise you that my review will be brief so I do not ruin the suspense for anyone who decides to read this.

The story revolves around Jessica Gould who is kidnapped by Dominic Lacey on Christmas Eve.  Dominic intends to keep her prisoner for the twelve days of Christmas and gives her one bizarre gift after another every day.  The gifts give us insight into Dominic's dark past - in fact it is almost a lesson in how to make and detect a psychopath.  However, Jessica is so weird (she hears voices, seemingly blacks out and forgets large parts of her days...) that it was hard for me to develop as much sympathy for her as I probably should have.

The action alternates between Dominic and Jessica's story and that of Kim, the police officer assigned to the missing person's case when Jessica's family reports her mysterious disappearance.  Kim is struggling with her own issues as she tries to advance in the force at the expense of her marriage and family.  I found these interludes a welcome break from the dark descriptions of what occurred in Dominic's "prison".  It is through Kim that we also learn more about Jessica's boyfriends, parents, brothers and nieces and nephews.  These characters give us more insight into her and her past and show why she was likely somewhat vulnerable to Dominic's charms.

By the end we get a clear picture of all of the characters and what transpired in the days leading up to the kidnapping - and it was all believable though very surprising.  I wouldn't read this unless you have the stomach for some rather dark descriptive passages.