Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

Essayist David Sedaris is back with another comical, only could happen to him, relevant to the times we are living in collection of stories.

These are much more personal writings, I feel, which encompass his father’s decline in health and his ultimate death and funeral, an homage to his wonderful sister, Amy, his travels abroad and to his homes which ultimately do not go so well, and what he learned during Covid.

The main themes throughout the book are his honesty about the decline and death of his father. It encompasses his love, hate relationship with him, some not so happy stories of growing up with him as his father, never being able to please him, even when he had become famous. The funny stories of what it was like to live under the same roof as his father and what he and his siblings would do to when things became rough. More importantly he had to come to grips with his feelings for this man as he watches him decline and then die.

But the essays are not always so sad! He tells a story of how during Covid, he and his partner who never really spend all that much time together because David is always touring, must somehow learn to live together full-time again with him asking his partner’s sibling, “What’s he like?”. He also describes what living with someone full time can do to a relationship. For example, his partner likes to play the piano. Sedaris likes to write. Hence the problem. Well, let’s buy the apartment upstairs so one can get away from the piano playing and continue to write. This caused his sister Amy to chastise him only to be reminded that she bought the apartment upstairs from her to get away from her pet rabbit!

Another quite funny story involves a teenager who seems to have a crush on him and stalks him which nobody believes because he is in France and has a hard time with the language. Another involves his love of wearing masks during Covid because he felt so free from his horrible smile because of his terrible teeth!

Intertwined are stories of his siblings and what they have had to endure during their lives, a sister who committed suicide and watching her downfall and feeling helpless. But also, many stories of their love for each other and what they are willing (or unwilling) to do for the other.

Filled with his quirky humor, wisdom and unapologetic rationale of well, just about everything, Happy-Go-Lucky is another stellar and funny read.

Begin Again by Emma Lord

Begin Again is a moving coming of age story about a college age girl who is grappling with finding her own voice and identity in life, as she tries to walk in the footsteps of her late mother, always seeming to help others with their problems, always giving them sage advice, but somehow unable to help herself. The story captures her angst as she tries to let go of her past while trying to be her own person as well as learning to not only forgive others, but to forgive herself.

Andie Rose has worked very hard to transfer to Blue Ridge State College. Her boyfriend since she was a child goes there, but more important than that, her late mother graduated from there and certainly left her mark. But when she arrives, she discovers her boyfriend no longer there having transferred back to a college back home. With no friends, and the inability to do any type of math, she is at first frazzled. She also feels a sense of anxiety always trying to be the best at everything, feeling that is what her mother would expect. But even with her mother’s absence her life has been filled with love. She lives with both her grandmothers and her father is there for her as much as he can be, which sometimes Andie feels is not quite enough.

As she settles in meeting her new roommate, Shay and her RA, Milo she begins to feel as if she has found a home. And as always, she tries to fix everybody. But being the best at everything can be exhausting and add to that the pressure of work, sliding grades, an unhappy relationship, perhaps a crush and trying to be as good as her mother was, well, she finds herself in what seems like an unfixable situation.

Sometimes it really does take a village, but in order for that kind of help, you must accept what is given. In Andie’s case and with the assistance of her family and friends and a whole lot of love, she finds herself realizing its ok to let go of the past and begin again.

A heartwarming, funny, uplifting story of loss, love and finding one’s way through life’s most difficult struggles.

Thank you #NetGalley #WednesdayBooks #EmmaLord #BeginAgain for the advanced copy.

The Twyford Code by Janice Hallett

When I read Janice Hallett’s first novel, The Appeal, I couldn’t imagine her second novel could be able to top its mastery. Boy, was I wrong! The Twyford Code is a magnificent, skillfully, shrewdly crafted puzzle.

Steven “Smithy” Smith had a very difficult childhood. His parents left and his brother who was only a bit older had to try and take care of him. Left on his own accord, one day over 40 years ago he found a copy of a book by an author named Edith Twyford on a bus. Unable to read, he shows the book to his teacher. She decides to read the story to the class. But in the process, she is convinced there is something more going on in the story than just the story. She is sure the book is some sort of code for something. She decides to take the class on a field trip to Twyfold’s home and she disappears.

Flash forward to the present where Smithy has just gotten out of prison after 11 years and is finally able to read. Never having gotten over what could possibly have caused his teacher’s mysterious disappearance, curiosity about the book that led them on that field trip and the guilt he still feels that he was the cause of all this because be brought the book to her attention, he decides to try and investigate the mystery.

Through a series of voice recordings on his son’s old phone, Smithy sets out to find some of his friends from that class who were on that fateful fieldtrip many years ago. He wants to see if they are able to fill the blanks in his memory of what actually happened that day.

As he investigates, he focuses on this code his teacher seems to have discovered. What could the code possibly be for? Perhaps treasure? More importantly, how does one go about finding a code in a story? As he pieces together clues with the help of his childhood friends he also begins to reminisce about his life as a child as well as what led up to him going to prison.

He decides to leave his recordings to his parole officer, Maxine and is helped by a local librarian named Lucy who becomes his sidekick. But as they delve deeper into the Twyford stories and begin to put the code together, some of his past problems begin to haunt his present. You see, not everybody is happy he is out of jail. He feels he must solve this problem quickly before something happens to him. He worries about endangering what is left of his family. His brother is living in squalor and entertains very shifty characters, his son, now grown is estranged from him and refuses to take his calls.

But he and his friends and Lucy persevere in the hopes that he can somehow crack the code in order to find out what really happened all those years ago, and where, if there is a treasure could it possibly be. Or has it already vanished, taken by someone who has already broken the code and found it.

Hopefully all this hard work will not be for nothing.

In classic Hallett style, The Twyford Code is unlike any novel you will have ever read. And the ending? Perfection! The book is a wonderfully imaginative narration!

Thank you #NetGalley #AtriaBooks #TheTwyfordCode #JaniceHallett for the advanced copy.

The Hunter by Jennifer Herrera

The Hunter is a complex story about the residence in a small town, secrets both in the present and the past, fear of love and death. People in small towns can hold many secrets for many years. But inevitably, they will come back to haunt those who kept them. Some are so horrible, that it can wear on the people keeping them. Others will die trying to figure them out.

Detective Leigh O’Donnell has left her husband abruptly. Suspended by the NYPD she has been offered a job in her hometown of Copper Falls, Ohio. Her brother, a police officer in town has put in a good word for her. He will be her partner. Although tempted to return to a place she has not visited in over a decade, she has to decide if she will be able to handle the many memories, both good and bad of her time there. Her uncles live in the house she grew up. They are still there. But the most tempting reason to return is because three men were found drowned and their deaths could possibly be homicides.

So, she packs up her young daughter and tells her estranged husband she is going on a vacation back home to see her family. As Leigh tries to adapt to the way policing is done in her small town, for example, checking on some of the elderly residents in the morning, but never alone, always with a partner, she tries to adjust to their pace. But the mystery of these three men, found dead, who seem to have drowned, yet their bodies have no bruises has heightened her intuition that something does not make sense.

As she starts to investigate, she begins to learn not only about the three men who died, but coincidently three men who died years ago. Is there a connection? As she delves deeper, she realizes something has been going on in this town for years. Were these victims intentionally hunted and killed? By who? Or were they all suicides as everyone in the town seems to believe.

But as Leigh is trying to make sense of what is happening in town, she also must deal with the fact that she left her husband and according to her daughter he seems to have wasted no time in replacing her. She does not know how to deal with this information as she is still pining for him.

The Hunter is a story with so many twists and turns and secrets both horrific and scandalous that you will voraciously read this juicy tale and be glued to the pages as you will be continuously surprised by what happens in a small town and what the residence must do to survive.

Thank you #NetGalley #G.P.Putnam’sSons #Jennifer Herrera #TheHunter for the advanced copy.

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

The Bandit Queens is a very funny, quirky story about a group of wives and a widow who somehow become a dysfunctional sisterhood in hopes of emulating their friend Geeta, the widow and kill their husbands who abuse them, because of their culture in India in which women are looked down upon, oppressed, abused and belittled by men. It sounds horrible and it is, but this is a story of how these women take matters into their own hands…and win!

Greeta lost her husband five years ago. Although everyone in her small village thinks she killed him, she really did not. She really just LOST him. He disappeared and never returned. End of story. But many of the other wives believe otherwise. They envy Greeta’s freedom. She and her husband never had children, so she is able to have a pretty relaxed lifestyle.

So, when one of these women asks her to please help her kill her husband, Greeta says what she always says. She didn’t kill her husband. But when the wife shows us with bruises all over her face, she finally relents and devises a plan to help the woman, but not kill the husband. That should be the wife’s job. But sometimes helping someone kill their husband can backfire on the assistant. And so now Greeta is being blackmailed.

While all this is happening, other women find out what Greeta has been up to and implore her to help them. Hilarity and danger ensue as another husband dies and they all try to cover up the killing and worst of all, Greeta’s own husband returns from the dead. Add a dog named Bandit, an unwanted husband who wants to take advantage of his wife and you get a powerful force of females who ultimately put their men in their place. Or grave. Or crematory.

The Bandit Queens with its snarky dialogue and lovable characters makes this story about death a comedy of errors. It’s a compilation of How to Get Away with Murder meets The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight! Enjoyable from beginning to end.

Thank you #NetGalley #BallentineBooks #TheBanditQueens #PariniShroff for the advanced copy.

The Things We Do To Our Friends by Heather Darwent

The Things We Do To Our Friends is a diabolically evil story about “friends” and the manipulation used to get what they want no matter what the cost. The pressure they put on each other, the jealousy towards each other yet the inability to care for each other and most importantly how they are able to hurt each other in the name of “friendship”. But when is enough, enough? When do they go too far? And then what happens when they begin to turn on each other.

Clare has just come out of a pretty horrible period in her life. She has left her family, not by her choice, left who she believed were her friends all due to circumstances she created. She is hoping this move to Edinburgh, Scotland to go to college will wipe her slate clean. She wants to start again, meet people like herself. Move on.

Then she meets Tabitha, the alpha of a group of college students. She sees how Tabitha is able to manipulate her group of friends, Samuel, a childhood friend, Ava, her second in command and Imogene, a hanger on. She finds herself drawn to Tabitha. And Tabitha begins to manipulate Clare, even trying to make her into her own image. Clare is thrown into this clique and enjoys not only the comradery but also the secretiveness of the group.

But when Tabitha suggests they all work together on an enterprise she has created, Clare needs to be convinced. You see, she has some secrets from them. She is very unsure she should participate for fear of repercussions. But she finally relents and becomes embroiled in this new “job”. She soon realizes that what this entails is dangerous to others but especially to her and her life. But trying to get out of Tabitha’s grasp could mean death and Tabitha will do just about anything to keep Clare in line.

What will happen if the pact these friends have made dissolves? They all know so much. Will Tabitha destroy each one of them? How can she be stopped? Can she be stopped before she destroys them all.

Heather Darwent’s story is devious, fiendish and filled with psychological trauma which makes for an incredible can’t put down read!

Thank you #NetGalley #Bantam #ThingsWeDoToOurFriends #HeatherDarwent for the advanced copy.

The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti by Jennifer Probst

The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti is a beautifully written story about three sisters who have lost touch and can barely tolerate each other who are forced to come to grips with the death of their mother and the mystery she left behind. In order to find peace, these women must somehow work together to find out who this woman they loved so dearly could have had a hidden life none of them knew about.

Priscilla is the creative sister. Formerly a professional ballet dancer, her life drastically changed when she met and fell in love with her husband and decided to give up her career for a family. Against her mother’s advice. Now, years later with her son grown and living in London, she begins to feel the pull of something. Just what she doesn’t know, but she feels she may be harboring resentment towards her husband for the decision she made all those years ago.

Devon is task oriented. A college teacher she has no time for any social activities other than preparing for her next class and hoping to someday be the head of the department, something she was just passed over for.

Baily is the free spirit. She loves art and drawing, (as her mother did), and acting. She is a social butterfly. She and Devon had a blow out when they were young that has never been truly resolved and this has affected not only their relationship, but their relationship with Priscilla who feels her place is as referee to their dysfunction. As much as their mother tried, she could never get them to resolve their issues.

Then, of course, there is their mother Olivia who was the true stable force in their lives. But when Olivia dies suddenly leaving the women to not only grieve her loss, but also feel as if they weren’t there for her at the end, there is tension between the siblings.

But when they find a chest hidden in the back of their mother’s closet as they are cleaning out her house, and inside are letters to and from a mysterious R, as well as the title to a house in Positano, Italy, they don’t know what to think. The last letter in the group was received by their mom just before her death. It was from R who told Olivia to come to Positano on her 65th birthday so they could meet up. Olivia unfortunately never made it to her birthday.

The sisters decide they must go to the Amalfi Coast and find this man who was somehow so important in their mother’s life from an early age, someone she chose not to tell anyone about ever. He was someone she clearly loved as a young girl and had some sort of relationship with for all these years. How on earth did they meet?

Unfortunately, the women’s history with each other causes fighting and strain upon their arrival in Italy and they must somehow resolve their problems not only with each other, but each must take a look into their own selves to see why they all seem to be stuck in their lives.

All this must be done without their mother’s help, someone who they all relied on in times of crisis. Will they be able to find this “R” who may hold all the answers to their mother’s past? And could these answers be the final gift their mother Olivia gives to the daughters she loved desperately and left behind so unexpectedly? Will they not only find themselves but each other as they hunt the truth of who loved their mother so much, he let her go.

The Secret Love Letters of Olivia Moretti is a story filled with mystery, beautiful scenery, intrigue, love and loss and most importantly forgiveness.

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins

The Villa is not just one, but two incredible psychological thrillers rolled into separate stories, the first from the 1970’s and the second from present day. Both are filled with mystery, death, puzzles and revenge. And the main character is the house itself because in the end, the house always remembers…

In 1974 Villa Rosato in Italy was rented by a group of musicians. Mara and Lara are stepsisters who tag along because Lara is seeing the host, famous rock star Noel Gordon and Mara is seeing up and coming song-writer Pierce. Mara is in love with Pierce and Lara sort of falls in and out of love easily, including an affair with Pierce which Mara chooses to overlook. This complication along with sex, drugs and making music become the setting for an almost inevitable disaster.

And what happens during their time together at The Villa is just that, a tragedy with one of them being murdered and one of them imprisoned. But for Mara and Lara their time together at the house will push both of them into stardom. Mara with a bestselling novel called Lilith Rising and Lara with an album titled Aestas which still haunts those who listen to it to this day. But even until both their deaths, they refused to ever discuss what happened at the house that summer.

Flash forward to best friends Emily and Chess. They have been friends since childhood. Even though their lives took them in separate directions with Emily marrying and becoming a cozy mystery writer of a series and Chess becoming a famous lifestyle guru, they remained in each other’s lives. Emily is in the midst of a divorce as well as a year of horrible health issues and writer’s block when Chess suggests they go away for a month to Italy. Chess is also supposed to be writing a book. Emily agrees.

When they get to Villa Aestas, Emily realizes that this is the house where horrible things had happened years ago. They had changed the name when Lara became famous to Villa Aestas after her best-selling album which they believe she wrote after the killing. While browsing the library Emily discovers a copy of Mara’s famous novel, Lilith Rising. As she begins to read the story, she sees a resemblance as to what happened that summer years ago. Fascinated, she develops a theory and begins to explore the house for clues that her thinking might be correct. Emily’s obsession with finding out the truth leads her to decide to start a book about her findings.

Chess realizes what Emily is doing. Their relationship begins to fracture and by the end of their time at Villa Aestas there will be another death and their lives will suddenly change forever. You see, houses really do remember.

The Villa is a well-written, mesmerizing story with a built in who done it and a shell-shocking ending you will not see coming.

Thank You #NetGalley #St.Martin’sPress #TheVilla #RachelHawkins for the advanced copy.