Book Review: Dava Shastri’s Last Day by Kirthana Ramisetti

Title: Dava Shastri’s Last Day
Author: Kirthana Ramisetti
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: November 30, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In this thought-provoking and entertaining debut novel about of a multicultural family, a dying billionaire matriarch leaks news of her death early so she can examine her legacy–a decision that horrifies her children and inadvertently exposes secrets she has spent a lifetime keeping.

Dava Shastri, one of the world’s wealthiest women, has always lived with her sterling reputation in mind. A brain cancer diagnosis at the age of seventy, however, changes everything, as she decides to take her death—like all matters of her life—into her own hands.

Summoning her four adult children to her private island, she discloses shocking news: in addition to having a terminal illness, she has arranged for the news of her death to break early, so she can read her obituaries.

As someone who dedicated her life to the arts and the empowerment of women, Dava expects to read articles lauding her philanthropic work. Instead, her “death” reveals two devastating secrets, truths she thought she had buried forever.

And now the whole world knows, including her children.

In the time she has left, Dava must come to terms with the decisions that have led to this moment—and make peace with those closest to her before it’s too late.

Compassionately written and chock-full of humor and heart, this powerful novel examines public versus private legacy, the complexities of love, and the never-ending joys—and frustrations—of family.

This will sound weird — but I’m tempted to not read any further books for the few days remaining in 2021. Why? So I can end on a high note! I can’t tell you how much I loved Dava Shastri’s Last Day. It feels good to think about ending my reading year with such a terrific 5-star read!

In this sensitive, compelling book, we meet the awesome Dava Shastri at age 70. She’s a world-famous philanthropist, having devoted her adult life to using her billions to support worthwhile causes around the world. She’s also a mother, a grandmother, and a widow, and as the book opens, Dava has called her family to their private island for reasons not yet disclosed.

As the family gathers, she shares her big secret: Dava has terminal cancer, and faced with months of painful treatments that may prolong her life but not sustain it in any sort of quality, she decides to leave on her own terms. A doctor is on stand-by, already on the island. After a final day with her family, Dava will be ending her life via assisted suicide.

The family, naturally, is shocked. They’re even more shocked to learn that Dava’s attorney has already announced her death to the world. Faced with the end, Dava has decided to indulge her curiosity and see how she’s remembered — because hasn’t everyone always wondered about attending their own funeral?

The news, while full of praise for Dava’s generosity, soon turns to gossip and scandal, as a decades-old rumor of an extramarital affair with a rock singer resurfaces in the wake of the death announcements. Dava is dismayed that these old stories have taken over the headlines, so instead of the tributes she expected, she’s faced once again with the rumors she could never quite shake.

As the book progresses, each of Dava’s four adult children tries to come to terms with Dava’s legacy and their own relationships to their powerful, hard-working, often absent mother. In devoting her life to serving others, Dava’s homelife by necessity came second. And while she raised her children to follow in her footsteps and devote themselves to the family foundations and charitable causes, each has to face their own soul-searching to find their purpose in life — and to figure out whether Dava is someone they want to emulate or rebel against.

There are so many lovely moments, as the siblings explore their connections, their own marriages and relationships, and their place in the world. Even the grandchildren have important roles to play, as they get a final chance to learn the truth about their grandmother — who she is, what her life has meant, and what paths she’s blazed for them.

Dava herself is a fascinating character, a self-made woman whose life contains heartbreak and challenge and ultimate success. She often enigmatic, and at first seems to be a woman who places too much emphasis on physical comfort and luxuries, but we soon learn that there’s so much more to this powerful, determined woman.

The one element that rang a little oddly for me is the setting — the main events surround Dava’s last day take place in 2044. I suppose this is so that the author could root some of Dava and her children’s earlier years in our own contemporary times. The fact that it’s 2044 in this book isn’t particularly explored, beyond a couple of references to climate and the ease of accessing Dava’s chosen end-of-life medical treatment.

Other than that, there’s really not a false note in this beautiful book. I loved the characters, the relationships, the secrets that emerge, and the lovely way the stories all tie together by the end.

This would be a fabulous book group selection — there’s so much to think about and discuss!

Dava Shastri’s Last Day seems to have been an under-the-radar release for the end of 2021. Fortunately, I stumbled across a mention of the book in a year-end list, and the beautiful cover caught my eye. I’m so happy to have read this book, and will be sharing it with lots of friends and family.

Audiobook Review: Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

Title: Tokyo Ever After
Author: Emiko Jean
Narrator:  Ali Ahn
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 18, 2021
Print length: 336 pages
Audio length: 9 hours, 33 minutes
Genre: Young adult
Source: Purchased
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity… and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.

In a whirlwind, Izzy travels to Japan to meet the father she never knew and discover the country she always dreamed of. But being a princess isn’t all ball gowns and tiaras. There are conniving cousins, a hungry press, a scowling but handsome bodyguard who just might be her soulmate, and thousands of years of tradition and customs to learn practically overnight.

Izzy soon finds herself caught between worlds, and between versions of herself—back home, she was never “American” enough, and in Japan, she must prove she’s “Japanese” enough. Will Izumi crumble under the weight of the crown, or will she live out her fairytale, happily ever after? 

If you’re a fan of The Princess Diaries, have I got a book for you!

In Tokyo Ever After, Japanese American high schooler Izumi stumbles across her long-lost father’s true identity — he’s none other than the (George Clooney-esque) Crown Prince of Japan! Raised by her single mother in a predominantly white small town in California, a place where Izzy always felt like something of an outsider, she suddenly finds herself whisked across the ocean to meet her father and be introduced to life as a member of the Japanese Imperial family.

Talk about whiplash.

Izzy’s casual, self-deprecating, none-too-serious approach to life does not help her succeed in Japan. Suddenly, her every move is scrutizined by the imperial-obsessed press. From her unscheduled airport bathroom break to her leggings and sweatshirt to her failure to wave to the crowd, Izumi is picked apart and criticized, literally from the moment she steps foot in her new country.

Nothing is easy. Her clothes, her manners, her gestures — all have to be replaced with behavior and looks befitting a princess. Not to mention the fact that despite being descended from Japanese immigrants to America, she grew up speaking English only, so language lessons are a must as well. And while Izumi’s father is warm and eager to get to know the daughter he never knew he had, certain members of the household are not thrilled by this new arrival, and will do anything to undermine her.

Tokyo Ever After is a delightful listen, with an entertaining mix of modern teen angst, humor, and texting with an entirely new culture and way of life. As Izumi learns more about Japan and life as a royal, so do we. The lessons and introduction to the imperial family are never dull or heavy handed; as Izumi experiences each new fascinating sight and taste and wonder, we readers/listeners get to experience it along with her.

Izumi herself is a wonderful character, not perfect by any means, but full of hope and willing to give this new twist in her life a real chance. She’s flawed (not a very good student, no compelling hobbies, not all that much going on in her life outside of her amazing set of friends — known affectionately as the AGG, the Asian Girl Gang), she’s not intentionally disobedient but has a hard time with the level of compliance required of young princesses, and she’s not entirely okay with putting up with slights for the sake of etiquette.

There’s a love interest, of course — the super attractive young Imperial Guard assigned to head Izumi’s security team. Akio is introduced as stiff and surly, but Izumi soon discovers the sensitive, poetry-loving soul hidden beneath that gruff (and muscled) exterior. A relationship between a princess and a commoner is not okay as far as Japanese tabloids are concerned, and when their budding romance is exposed, the plotline of the book comes to a head as Izumi must decided where she belongs and where her future lies.

The key themes of the book — family, fitting in, understanding identity, finding a way to belong without giving up who you are — are all well developed, but the writing never hits us over the head screaming important message here. Instead, through Izumi’s adventures and challenges, we’re along for the ride as her journey helps her find her own voice and figure out what matters, and how to stay true to herself while also welcoming tradition and family expectations.

The audiobook narration by Ali Ahn is just terrific. First off, it’s so much fun to hear the bits and pieces of Japanese dialogue, as well as Izumi’s attempts to learn the language. Also, the narrator’s voices for Izumi and her friends are really distinctive and well-done, giving each a shot of personality and conveying their humor, even while reading aloud their text exchanges.

Overall, Tokyo Ever After is a treat to read and listen to. The story is fun and upbeat, yet includes emotional connection and thoughtfulness too. Highly recommended.

The sequel to Tokyo Ever AfterTokyo Dreaming — is due out in May 2022, and honestly? It can’t come soon enough. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Izumi!

And finally… can we just take a minute to appreciate the gorgeousness of these covers??? These might be my favorites this year!

Book Review: The Sweetest Remedy by Jane Igharo

Title: The Sweetest Remedy
Author: Jane Igharo
Publisher: Berkley
Publication date: September 28, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library
Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

When a woman travels to Nigeria to attend the funeral of the father she never knew, she meets her extravagant family for the first time, a new and inspiring love interest, and discovers parts of herself she didn’t know were missing, from Jane Igharo, the acclaimed author of Ties That Tether.

Hannah Bailey has never known her father, the Nigerian entrepreneur who had a brief relationship with her white mother. Because of this, Hannah has always felt uncertain about part of her identity. When her father dies, she’s invited to Nigeria for the funeral. Though she wants to hate the man who abandoned her, she’s curious about who he was and where he was from. Searching for answers, Hannah boards a plane to Lagos, Nigeria.

In Banana Island, one of Nigeria’s most affluent areas, Hannah meets the Jolades, her late father’s prestigious family–some who accept her and some who think she doesn’t belong. The days leading up to the funeral are chaotic, but Hannah is soon shaped by secrets that unfold, a culture she never thought she would understand or appreciate, and a man who steals her heart and helps her to see herself in a new light. 

In Jane Igharo’s newest novel, family is family, even when least expected.

Hannah is a successful writer living in San Francisco near the single mother who raised her. She’s passionate about her career and her volunteer commitments at a local youth center. She’s also fed up with clueless, entitled men who try to hit on her by commenting on her “exotic” beauty or think it’s flattering to ask her about her ethnicity.

When Hannah attends an upscale cocktail party with her best friend, she’s pretty much over it all, until she meets a lovely man who seems to really see her, but their connection is cut short when he’s called away on something urgent. Soon after, Hannah’s mother shares painful news as well: She’s just been informed that Hannah’s father, a man Hannah met only once in her life, has died suddenly. What’s more, his final request was for Hannah to attend his funeral in Nigeria.

Hannah’s feeling are complicated and painful. She’s always known who her father was — a wealthy, powerful businessman from Nigeria. She’s googled his family and has seen photos of her siblings, none of whom know she exists. She has memories of his one visit to see her in San Francisco, and she knows that he’s always provided financially — and generously — for her… but why did he never actually want her? Why was she never good enough?

With a push from her mother, Hannah agrees to go to Nigeria, and the experience is astounding and life-changing. The Jolade family is not just well-off — they’re extremely wealthy, and their home is a gated estate in the exclusive Banana Island area of Lagos. Hannah learns upon arrival that the family has not been told anything about her, so when she shows up in their midst, their reactions are shock, anger, and resentment.

Still, their father has stipulated that the family must stay at the estate with Hannah until after his funeral or they’ll be cut out of his will, and so begins a two-week period where awkwardness and hostility slowly make way for new connections and emotional exploration.

As Hannah develops relationships with each of her siblings, she gains greater understanding of who her father was, why he made the decision he made, and how she fits into this world that’s so strange to her. Her journey is lovely and thoughtful, and also includes romance, as the man she’d met in San Francisco ends up being important to the Jolade family as well.

I loved reading about Hannah’s experiences, and admired her courage so much. She’s thrust into a world that she knew of as a child, but always viewed as a fairy tale, out of her reach. She describes herself at one point as the child looking through the candy story window, seeing a beautiful world but unable to participate. At the same time, she feels guilty too, not wanting to hurt the mother who devoted herself to her upbringing by embracing a world that she’s not a part of.

The book is mostly told through Hannah’s perspective, but also includes chapters from the points of view of other family members, and this approach really works. It allows us to see the other sides of the story — the emotional upheaval of not only losing your father, but also discovering the deep secret he’s kept, and being forced at the same time to accept a stranger into your midst and treat them as family.

We also see Hannah’s experiences in Nigeria, as she learns to connect with a piece of her own heritage, feeling alien yet finding ways to embrace what Nigeria means to her, and to see beyond the expensive lifestyle she initially encounters to understand the family’s history and deeper connections to the people of Lagos.

The love story is affecting and feels real, but it doesn’t take over or dominate the story. I see this book as much more about identity and family than about the romance, although all these elements come together in a really beautiful way.

The Sweetest Remedy is moving and lovely, with a storyline that’s well-written and evocative, and a main character you can’t help but wish the best for. I really loved this book. Don’t miss it!

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Shelf Control #278: Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Night Road
Author: Kristin Hannah
Published: 2011
Length: 385 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Jude Farraday is a happily married, stay-at-home mom who puts everyone’s needs above her own. Her twins, Mia and Zach, are bright and happy teenagers. When Lexi Baill enters their lives, no one is more supportive than Jude. A former foster child with a dark past, Lexi quickly becomes Mia’s best friend. Then Zach falls in love with Lexi and the three become inseparable. But senior year of high school brings unexpected dangers and one night, Jude’s worst fears are confirmed: there is an accident. In an instant, her idyllic life is shattered and her close-knit community is torn apart. People—and Jude—demand justice, and when the finger of blame is pointed, it lands solely on eighteen-year-old Lexi Baill. In a heartbeat, their love for each other will be shattered, the family broken. Lexi gives up everything that matters to her—the boy she loves, her place in the family, the best friend she ever had—while Jude loses even more.

When Lexi returns, older and wiser, she demands a reckoning. Long buried feelings will rise again, and Jude will finally have to face the woman she has become. She must decide whether to remain broken or try to forgive both Lexi…and herself.

Night Road is a vivid, emotionally complex novel that raises profound questions about motherhood, loss, identity, and forgiveness. It is an exquisite, heartbreaking novel that speaks to women everywhere about the things that matter most. 

How and when I got it:

I bought a paperback edition about two years ago.

Why I want to read it:

I know Kristin Hannah has been a bestselling author for many years, but I’ve only recently read anything by her, and the two books I read (The Great Alone and The Four Winds) both blew me away. I feel in love with the books, the characters, and the settings, and have been wanting to read more of her books.

This sounds like a dark domestic drama. I love stories involving family secrets and found families. The description does make me a little nervous that the events will be too heartbreaking for my poor tender feelings, but I’m also intrigued to find out more about what happens and how the family is changed over time.

What do you think? Would you read this book? Or are there any other Kristin Hannah books you’d recommend?

Please share your thoughts!


__________________________________

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Book Review: Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Title: Malibu Rising
Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: June 1, 2021
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Malibu: August 1983. It’s the day of Nina Riva’s annual end-of-summer party, and anticipation is at a fever pitch. Everyone wants to be around the famous Rivas: Nina, the talented surfer and supermodel; brothers Jay and Hud, one a championship surfer, the other a renowned photographer; and their adored baby sister, Kit. Together the siblings are a source of fascination in Malibu and the world over–especially as the offspring of the legendary singer Mick Riva.

The only person not looking forward to the party of the year is Nina herself, who never wanted to be the center of attention, and who has also just been very publicly abandoned by her pro tennis player husband. Oh, and maybe Hud–because it is long past time for him to confess something to the brother from whom he’s been inseparable since birth.

Jay, on the other hand, is counting the minutes until nightfall, when the girl he can’t stop thinking about promised she’ll be there.

And Kit has a couple secrets of her own–including a guest she invited without consulting anyone.

By midnight the party will be completely out of control. By morning, the Riva mansion will have gone up in flames. But before that first spark in the early hours before dawn, the alcohol will flow, the music will play, and the loves and secrets that shaped this family’s generations will all come bubbling to the surface.

Malibu Rising is a story about one unforgettable night in the life of a family: the night they each have to choose what they will keep from the people who made them . . . and what they will leave behind. 

Taylor Jenkins Reid is on a hot streak! I’ve love all of her books, but her two most recent, Daisy Jones & The Six and The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo have really taken her work to a new level of excellence. I’m happy to announce that Malibu Rising belongs right on that shelf with the best of the best — it’s another win for TJR!

In Malibu Rising, we meet the siblings of the Riva clan — famous, gorgeous, wealthy, and at the center of the Malibu elite. But as we learn through chapters that trace their history, their lives have not been pampered or privileged up to this point.

The book is structured around the Rivas’ big blow-out end-of-summer party, the most coveted social event of the season. Anybody who’s anybody will be there. There are no formal invitations — if you know about it, you’re invited. As the book opens in August 1983, Nina and her siblings are getting ready for the party in their own way, each dealing with their own share of worries and secrets, nervously anticipating how the party will play out.

Meanwhile, we also learn about the past through interwoven chapters going all the way back to their parents’ courtship. Their father is Mick Riva, who in 1983 is a world-famous singer, possibly on the downward slope of his fame — but in the 1950s, he was a charming young man on the cusp of stardom who fell hard for a pretty girl he met on the beaches of Malibu. Mick’s name will be familiar to readers of Evelyn Hugo — he has a brief appearance in that book, but here, it’s his legacy that really has an impact.

Mick marries June and starts a family with her, but over the years, his rising stardom takes him away from home more often than he’s there, and his infidelities and lack of availability eventually lead to total abandonment. June is left with four children to raise, no support or contact from Mick, and has to figure it all out on her own. From working long hours in her family’s restaurant to going without and giving all to the kids, she struggles to keep them afloat, but it’s not easy on her or the children.

The Riva kids’ saving grace comes when they discover a discarded surfboard on the beach. From then on, they’re hooked, and surfing becomes their defining shared passion — and ultimately, their ticket back to money, success, and the fame that goes with it.

As the party approaches, the four Riva kids, now all young adults, deal with a dissolving marriage, a shocking medical condition, a secret relationship, and questions about identity. Meanwhile, hundreds of stars and wannabes are preparing to descend on Nina’s beachside Malibu mansion for a party that will quickly escalate out of control and will change lives forever.

At first glance, I was hesitant — books about the super-rich don’t typically appeal to me. Would Malibu Rising be just another story about a group of spoiled rich kids? Happily, I was pleasantly surprised. The four main characters — Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit — are well-drawn and grounded, and the more we get to know them, the more sympathetic they become.

I loved how the author weaves together the family background and the siblings’ childhood experiences with the main timeline of the story, so we understand as the party gets rolling who these people are and what’s at stake. As the party progresses in the 2nd half of the book, the tension mounts higher and higher. We’re told right in the prologue that there will be a devastating fire — but how it starts, what happens next, and who gets out remains a mystery until close to the end.

The relationships between the four main characters are complex and beautifully developed, and seeing how their parents’ relationship echoes down to the next generation is eye-opening and feels really realistic.

In case you’re wondering, while Mick Riva does figure into the plot of Evelyn Hugo, Malibu Rising isn’t a sequel, and it stands on its own just fine. I mean, yes, go ahead and read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo if you haven’t, because it’s amazing, but it’s not a requirement in order to enjoy Malibu Rising.

I’m sure this book is going to be a huge bestseller — totally deserved! Apparently Hulu is already planning an adaptation, and I for one will be there for it!

I highly recommend Malibu Rising — don’t miss it!

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Shelf Control #271: Restless by William Boyd

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: Restless
Author: William Boyd
Published: 2006
Length: 336 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

“I am Eva Delectorskaya,” Sally Gilmartin announces, and so on a warm summer afternoon in 1976 her daughter, Ruth, learns that everything she ever knew about her mother was a carefully constructed lie. Sally Gilmartin is a respectable English widow living in picturesque Cotswold village; Eva Delectorskaya was a rigorously trained World War II spy, a woman who carried fake passports and retreated to secret safe houses, a woman taught to lie and deceive, and above all, to never trust anyone.

Three decades later the secrets of Sally’s past still haunt her. Someone is trying to kill her and at last she has decided to trust Ruth with her story. Ruth, meanwhile, is struggling to make sense of her own life as a young single mother with an unfinished graduate degree and escalating dependence on alcohol. She is drawn deeper and deeper into the astonishing events of her mother’s past—the mysterious death of Eva’s beloved brother, her work in New York City manipulating the press in order to shift public sentiment toward American involvement in the war, and her dangerous romantic entanglement. Now Sally wants to find the man who recruited her for the secret service, and she needs Ruth’s help.

Restless is a brilliant espionage book and a vivid portrait of the life of a female spy. Full of tension and drama, and based on a remarkable chapter of Anglo-American history, this is fiction at its finest.

How and when I got it:

I’m not sure! But I think I picked it up either at a used book store or a library sale several years ago.

Why I want to read it:

Someone — and I don’t remember who! — recommended this book to me. Strongly. I believe it was one of my book group friends, because I pretty much always take their recommendations to heart — they all have excellent taste!

Restless sounds intriguing. I love stories about hidden identities and multi-generational family secrets. The WWII setting and the focus on a female spy make this book sound like something I’d really enjoy.

I’ve previously read one book by this author, Brazzaville Beach, and even though it was many years ago, it’s a book that was disturbing and fascinating and has stayed with me ever since.

What do you think? Would you read this book? Have you read any other books by William Boyd that you’d recommend?

Please share your thoughts!

Stay tuned!


__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
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Book Review: The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

Title: The Last Thing He Told Me
Author: Laura Dave
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: May 4, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Thriller/contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

We all have stories we never tell.

Before Owen Michaels disappears, he manages to smuggle a note to his beloved wife of one year: Protect her.

Despite her confusion and fear, Hannah Hall knows exactly to whom the note refers: Owen’s sixteen-year-old daughter, Bailey. Bailey, who lost her mother tragically as a child. Bailey, who wants absolutely nothing to do with her new stepmother.

As Hannah’s increasingly desperate calls to Owen go unanswered; as the FBI arrests Owen’s boss; as a US Marshal and FBI agents arrive at her Sausalito home unannounced, Hannah quickly realizes her husband isn’t who he said he was. And that Bailey just may hold the key to figuring out Owen’s true identity—and why he really disappeared.

Hannah and Bailey set out to discover the truth, together. But as they start putting together the pieces of Owen’s past, they soon realize they are also building a new future. One neither Hannah nor Bailey could have anticipated.

In Laura Dave’s unputdownable new novel, Hannah is happily married to Owen, and trying her best to get Owen’s 16-year-old daughter to accept her, or at the very least, to not actively dislike her. Owen and Hannah met and married and moved in together in his Sausalito floating home, all within the space of two years. But suddenly, their life is irreparably disrupted.

Owen’s tech company’s CEO is arrested for fraud and stock manipulation. It’s a huge scandal, but making matters worse for Hannah and Bailey is that Owen disappears as the news breaks. He hasn’t been arrested, and he hasn’t been directly implicated or accused of wrong-doing. Instead, he simply vanishes, leaving Hannah a scrawled note telling her to protect Bailey.

Hannah can’t believe that Owen is anything but a victim of circumstance, but his cryptic note confuses her. She’s even more disturbed when a Federal Marshal and then the FBI come knocking on her door, all looking for information on Owen’s whereabouts. With no way to reach Owen and no idea what he could be hiding, Hannah suggests to Bailey that they take matters into their own hands and go look for him instead.

Based on some loose memories of Bailey’s from her early childhood, as well as hints from some of Owen’s stories of his college days, they’re soon on his trail — but Hannah is horrified to discover that none of the history Owen shared with her seems to be true. Not his real name, not his family background, not his education… and if all of this is fabricated, then who really is this man she fell in love with and married?

Despite her own fears, Hannah realizes that she needs to honor Owen’s request to keep Bailey safe, even if Bailey seem to detest her and even if she doesn’t actually know what she’s protecting her from. But as they travel together to a new town and track down seemingly random facts and vague clues, they come to realize that they only have one another to rely on… and as they start putting the puzzle pieces together, Hannah becomes more and more certain that she may not like the answers she finds.

The Last Thing He Told Me is an intricately plotted web of misdirection and secrets. Through flashbacks, we see Hannah and Owen’s courtship and marriage, and learn the stories he shared with Hannah about his past. In the present, we see Hannah being truly there for Bailey, and Bailey’s grudging realization that Hannah might be the only person in the world she can fully count on.

There are deep, dark, dangerous secrets to be uncovered, and harsh truths for both Hannah and Bailey to confront. Ultimately, Hannah faces a decision that affects all of their lives, and only she has the ability to make sure that she’s choosing a path that carries out Owen’s wishes for Bailey.

I did not see where the story was going, and I was completely hooked on trying to figure out Owen’s secrets and why he behaved the way he did. Needless to say, the resolution was not what I expected! Kudos to the author for keeping me guessing all the way through!

In addition to the puzzle of the events of the story and the truth behind Owen’s disappearance, I really liked the developing trust and connection between Hannah and Bailey. I came to respect and admire Hannah very much — she’s put in an impossible situation, with no good options, and finds a way to do the right thing even when it feels like the worst choice in the world.

I picked up this book before it was announced that this would be the Hello, Sunshine choice for May. I’m delighted to see it getting so much attention! The Last Thing He Told Me is a gripping, fascinating read that practically demands to be discussed, and I think it would make a great book group selection.

Highly recommended!

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Shelf Control #264: The Other Family by Loretta Nyhan

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

Title: The Other Family
Author: Loretta Nyhan
Published: 2020
Length: 285 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the bestselling author of Digging In comes a witty and moving novel about motherhood, courage, and finding true family.

With a dissolving marriage, strained finances, and her life in flux, Ally Anderson longs for normal. Her greatest concerns, though, are the health problems of her young daughter, Kylie. Symptoms point to a compromised immune system, but every doctor they’ve seen has a different theory. Then comes hope for some clarity.

It’s possible that Kylie’s illness is genetic, but Ally is adopted. A DNA test opens up an entirely new path. And where it leads is a surprise: to an aunt Ally never knew existed. She’s a little wild, very welcoming, and ready to share more of the family history than Ally ever imagined.

Coping with a skeptical soon-to-be-ex husband, weathering the cautions of her own resistant mother, and getting maddeningly close to the healing Kylie needs, Ally is determined to regain control of her life. This is her chance to embrace uncertainty and the beauty of family—both the one she was born into and the one she chose.

How and when I got it:

I seem to have added a lot of e-books to my Kindle collection in 2020. Hmm, why would that be? This is a 2020 title that must have been offered at a price break at some point, so I grabbed a copy.

Why I want to read it:

There’s something about the description that really appeals to me. First off, I have a daughter with a chronic illness that results in a compromised immune system, so this aspect of the plot immediately makes me feel sympathetic toward the characters and makes me want to know more.

On top of that, the discovered-family element is quickly becoming a favorite trope for me. Having recently read one memoir and one novel where the secrets uncovered by DNA testing shake families up, I’m very interested in seeing how this plays out in different scenarios. In this case, having the health history elements seems to add another layer to the discovery, and I’m so curious to see how it all plays out.

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!



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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments or link back from your own post, so I can add you to the participant list.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Book Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

Title: The Good Sister
Author: Sally Hepworth
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: April 13, 2021
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Thriller
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From the outside, everyone might think Fern and Rose are as close as twin sisters can be: Rose is the responsible one and Fern is the quirky one. But the sisters are devoted to one another and Rose has always been Fern’s protector from the time they were small.

Fern needed protecting because their mother was a true sociopath who hid her true nature from the world, and only Rose could see it. Fern always saw the good in everyone. Years ago, Fern did something very, very bad. And Rose has never told a soul. When Fern decides to help her sister achieve her heart’s desire of having a baby, Rose realizes with growing horror that Fern might make choices that can only have a terrible outcome. What Rose doesn’t realize is that Fern is growing more and more aware of the secrets Rose, herself, is keeping. And that their mother might have the last word after all.

I have not been disappointed in a Sally Hepworth book yet, and The Good Sister is no exception! Talk about a page-turner! I couldn’t put the book down, and finished this compelling story in one day.

Rose and Fern are adult sisters who’ve only had each other to rely on for as long as they can remember. Rose is calm and responsible and protective; Fern has sensory issues and struggles to understand the nuances of interpersonal communications, completing missing nonvisual cues and unable to take words as anything but literal.

When Rose shares with Fern her heartache over infertility, Fern decides to have a baby for Rose. And when she meets a sweet guy at the library where she works, Fern realizes that he’s a good candidate for the baby’s father.

Things don’t always go as expected, and as Fern becomes attached to the man she calls Wally, Rose becomes uneasy about the relationship and the feeling that Fern is pulling away from her.

Man, this book is hard to talk about without entering spoiler territory!

Told through Rose’s diary entries and Fern’s first-person narration, we learn bits and pieces about the sisters’ bond, their painful childhood, and their memories of their mother. We also learn more about why and how Fern became so dependent on Rose, and why neither of them consider Fern to be reliable or trustworthy.

It’s only as we get deeper into the story that we start to realize that neither sister is telling the whole story, and that what we’re hearing might not be the true picture of certain key events. Puzzling out the pieces and figuring out what’s true and what’s a lie makes this an incredibly engrossing read.

I especially loved Fern’s character. She’s unusual and has certain needs when it comes to interacting with the world, but she’s also very loving in her own odd way. And hey, she’s a librarian! And a really great one — despite her outward prickliness and tendency to ignore people who ask for help with the library photocopier, she’s terrific at helping people find what they need, whether it’s the right book or a bit of distraction, a way to calm down or even just some basic toiletries so they can use the public showers.

The plot of The Good Sister has some very clever twists and turns, and honestly, I just could not stop reading once I started. I won’t say more about the story, because it’s just too much fun to experience it without advance clues or information. Sally Hepworth has written yet another engrossing story with memorable characters, and I heartily enjoyed it. Don’t miss The Good Sister!

Book Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

Title: The Ladies of the Secret Circus
Author: Constance Sayers
Publisher: Redhook
Publication date: March 23, 2021
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder-a world where women tame magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. But each daring feat has a cost. Bound to her family’s strange and magical circus, it’s the only world Cecile Cabot knows-until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate love affair that could cost her everything.

Virginia, 2005: Lara Barnes is on top of the world-until her fiancé disappears on their wedding day. Desperate, her search for answers unexpectedly leads to her great-grandmother’s journals and sweeps her into the story of a dark circus and a generational curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations.

The Ladies of the Secret Circus is a tale of family secrets and a dark heritage — but it doesn’t quite live up to the mysterious air promised by the cover and synopsis.

Lara is eagerly awaiting her wedding to Todd, the man she’s loved since her teens. But her joy turns to heartache when she’s left waiting at the altar on her wedding day. Did he jilt her? Did something happen to him? His abandoned car seems to provide a link to a similar disappearance that occurred 30 years earlier. Dark forces seem to be at play. Could this be related to Lara and her mother Audrey’s talent for magic? Or the fact that their small town in Virginia hasn’t had a single murder case in decades? Or Lara’s strange memories of being visited as a child by an unusual man who made incredible things happen?

In the months that follow, Todd’s fate remains a mystery and Lara starts to rebuild her life, but a gift from her mother sends her on a strange journey. The gift is a small painting that’s been hanging in Audrey’s house for as long as Lara can remember — a portrait of her great-grandmother Cecile as a young circus performer.

When Lara takes the painting to be reframed, the art expert who handles it is astonished to realize that this may be one of the rumored missing paintings by the great Jazz Age artist Emile Giroux. He supposedly painted his masterpiece, a series of three paintings called The Ladies of the Secret Circus, before his death, but no one has ever seen the paintings. If Lara’s painting is authentic, then its value is in the millions, and its discovery will rock the art world.

But as Lara investigates, the connection to ancient magics is revealed, especially once she begins to read Cecile’s long-lost diaries. The diaries tell a story of a mysterious, otherworldly circus that only appears to those who truly seek it, and the strange, damned performers who populate the circus and seemingly can never leave. There’s a connection to Lara’s family, but it’s beyond anything Lara could have expected, and carries huge dangers for her and everyone around her.

While the set-up is promising, the book itself didn’t meet my expectations. Some of this may be me — I seem to have issues with magical circus settings, since apparently I’m the only person in the world who didn’t love The Night Circus. The big revelations in this book about the Secret Circus struck me as too out-there to accept. I have problems with books where the use of magic makes anything and everything possible — at some point, it stops feeling like any rules apply at all.

The connections to Lara’s family are confusing, and the origin of the connection is just kind of dumped on the reader earlier on. The how’s and why’s of it all just didn’t work for me. So many of the more fantastical elements are stated as fact, but without a sense of build-up or setting to make these aspects feel at all plausible. The identities of some of the circus performers are supposed to ground the circus in our own world, but without giving anything away, I’ll just say that these pieces struck me as absurd and funny, rather than dramatic.

I enjoyed the diary entries, with their 1920s Paris setting, but again, the constant name-dropping of artists and authors like Hemingway, Chagall, and Man Ray made me feel distracted and as if the author were trying too hard to make the story real. It just didn’t work for me — somehow the use of real artists in this fictional tale felt out of place and at odds with the story the author was trying to tell.

Sad to say, overall this was a disappointing read for me. I loved the author’s previous book, A Witch in Time, and such high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, The Ladies of the Secret Circus started slowly and never fully pulled me in.