“It Ends With Us” by Colleen Hoover

Genre: Domestic ViolenceIt Ends with us
Publisher: Atria Books
Pub. Date: Aug. 2, 2021

This is a romance novel attempting to be a story about domestic violence.  Yes, we read about abusive men, in between reading about how gorgeous and sexy they are—Point made. The story doesn’t even educate the reader on why women stay in such relationships other than that the couples were in love. To give the author some praise, in the “about the author” she shares about growing up in a home with a physically abusive father and she does give a domestic hotline number. But, no references on research that was done to write this tale. She also gives the hotline for the homeless since the other man in the protagonist’s life was once homeless.  The ending is unbelievable and undeniable in the genre of romance.  Maybe for you but, not for me. I will not be reading this author again.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“To Dare” by Jemma Wayne

Genre: General Fiction/Literary Fiction To Dare
Publisher: Legend Press
Pub. Date: July 1, 2020

This novel explores many themes through a multi-layered style, maybe one too many. You will read about addictions, domestic violence, rape, child abuse, dysfunctional friendships, jealousy, class biases, miscarriage, and claustrophobia. Wayne does a good job in all her themes.  However, I am not sure that they all need to be addressed in one novel. Taking on too much can create a cramped read. Wayne’s astute observations make for a good literary fiction tale. Think the author Ann Patchett. Yet in this novel, the characters’ troubles, written in detailed and lengthy prose, gave off a melodramatic women’s fiction feel, especially the ending. No matter the genre, this story is dark. This reviewer has no problem reading disturbing fiction though others may.

Three women narrate the story. Two are childhood friends and the other is a neighbor to one of them. Their lives are interwoven by chance and proximity.  Simone grew up with money but in adulthood, she lives in poverty. Rebellion against her parents led her to a teenage marriage with a boy who lived in the slums. After his death, drug abuse and loneliness bring her into a disastrous second marriage. This time to a man who is mentally and physically abusive to her and her children. Here the author shines in exploring the reasons for her character’s spiraling downfall where she confuses abuse with love. Through Simone, Wayne does an excellent job of showing the reader the definition of Battered Women’s Syndrome.

We also meet Veronica who is a wealthy teacher.  She and her husband just moved into their dream house. However, she is mentally depressed. The trauma of her miscarriage and the stress of not being able to conceive again are destroying her marriage. Again, Wayne shines in her descriptions of Veronica’s emotions regarding her infertility.  They are good enough to make you wonder if she interviewed couples going through this issue. Then there is Sarah who in the present is a middle-class lawyer married with two children. In Sarah and Veronica’s childhood years, they were best friends. When she re-enters Veronica’s life the adult friendship goes haywire. I compliment the author by nailing their preteen jealousies complete with dangerous dares and power games, which hurt one of them so terribly it left her with claustrophobia.  In the present, both of them revert to their childhood personas.  Here, I thought things became unbelievable. It is hard to swallow that two grown women would have a “Mean Girls” sort of friendship.  It reads like a corny women’s fiction novel.

All three women are fighting their own demons, meaning the reader should be cheering them on. However, I did not. Or I did until the plot began to feel silly to me. When the three female stories are weaved together, rather than enhancing the novel they lose some of their intended punch. I do give the author credit for writing about three often-unlikable female characters. At least, I think that she did this on purpose.  (Spoiler: The tale has an open ending, but hints that the women will do well in their futures), which is usually the case in women’s fiction. Women’s fiction can be done well as it taps into the hopes, fears, and dreams of women today. However, in this novel with its many themes it comes off as excessive, exhausting, and sometimes silly.  This is a shame Wayne is clearly a talented author and I would read her again. I found “To Dare” to be a decent read that with some editing could have been a very good book.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review

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“Secrets of Eden” by Chris Bohjalian

Genre:         Psychological FictionSecrets of Eden
Publisher:    Broadway Books
Pub. Date:   2010

Wanting a quick break from Advanced Review Copies (ARCs), I decided to read a 2010 novel by Chris Bohjailian.  He is one of my preferred authors of page-turners.  In “Midwives,” one of my favorite novels, Bohalian crafts a courtroom drama that investigates an impossible decision made by a midwife who lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont.   In “The Double Bind,” he weaves together the world of “The Great Gatsby” and the lives of his current day Vermont characters.  This results in a spellbinding tale of tension.   “Eden” is a decent read but doesn’t have the literary chops shown in Bohjalian’s other suspense novels.  It lacks the powerful writing that makes the reader want to read quickly to learn the ending.  Unlike “Midwives” and “Bind,” the characters aren’t intriguing enough to make one want to jump into the book to meet them.

“Eden” is also a psychological thriller that is once again located in rural Vermont.    The author takes on the subject of domestic violence.  We meet a couple in a troubled marriage that ends in an apparent (or was it?) murder-suicide.  This happens soon after the wife is baptized in a river. The story is narrated by the four protagonists:  the town’s reverend, the prosecutor, a female author whose own parents died in a murder-suicide, and the dead couple’s teenage daughter.  The reverend is an interesting character.  The reader is not always sure what to make of him.  I found the prosecutor’s part in the story rather dull and predictable.  “I can tell you that the river Denial is indeed pretty freaking wide.”  There is none of the sophisticated fire of “Midwives.”  The female author, who happens to see angels, is simply an unneeded character.  Can’t figure out why she wasn’t edited out.  Maybe the author wanted to show different thoughts on religious paradise: The Garden of Eden.

However, the orphaned teenage daughter is very well written.  She becomes alive on the page.   It feels as if you are reading a real teen’s diary.  “What it was like to suddenly be an orphan (and I am an orphan) and feel all the time like you’re an imposition….Membership in Club Orphan has its privileges too.”  She could do anything and no one would reprimand her.  “Still, I wouldn’t recommend it.”   Hers is the only voice that allows the author to shine.  In an odd way, the daughter’s irony and wit, combined with her survival instincts, remind me of the females in Bohjailian’s “The Sandcastle Girls.”  That story is about the 1915 Armenian Genocide.  It is filled with the suspense of life and death.  I was mesmerized when I read that one.  My point is that the author’s talent pokes through even in a tale not quite as polished as I know his work can be.

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“Not Exactly Love: A Memoir” by Betty Hafner

Genre:           MemoirNot Exactly Love
Publisher:    She Writes Press
Pub. Date:    Oct. 11, 2016


“Part memoir, part warm-hearted look at the ’70s, and part therapeutic journey “Not Exactly Love: A Memoir” is an intense and inspirational story of a woman who grew from her experience.” –Goodreads blurb.

It is the above book blurb that peaked my interest in wanting to read this book.  This memoir takes place in the early 1970s; a battered wife endures years of beatings without telling her family or friends.  Back then, very few women did. This was decades before the “Me Too” movement.  The author, Betty Hafner, wore a long-sleeve top on her wedding day to cover a bruise on her arm, along with her hippy gaucho pants that horrified her mother (if mom only knew the real horror of the day).  But they were young and there was no denying the chemistry between them, so she ignored the signs and married her young man in 1969.  This is certainly not a new story, what kept my attention is that Hafner had the courage to bare all her secrets, even during her therapy sessions, without shame.  She vividly describes the mental and physical abuse.  She does not shy away from her codependence in the relationship.  Hafner clearly wants her memoir to help other women while somehow still managing to keep a light touch when describing the decade.  This reviewer was a teen in those years.  I could identify with those times.   “I had rocketed from the June Cleaver’60s of my youth straight into the Age of Aquarius.”  That line alone brought me down memory lane.  While reading, I could hear Janice Joplin singing in my head.  Hafner does a stellar job in pairing nostalgia and laughter into her painfully honest story.  She manages to add in comic relief to give the reader a breather from the tension; while still managing to break the silence of domestic violence.

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“A Mother’s Confession” by Kelly Rimmer

You know that when there is a contemporary novel about a perfect married couple with their beautiful, perfect baby,a-mothers-confession sooner or later you will learn that something is amiss.   The dark secret in this marriage was that the husband was a wife abuser.  Still, the wife had a complete mental breakdown after her husband commits suicide.

This is a character driven novel that is narrated by the young mother and her mother-in-law.  The chapters alternate between them.  The mother-in-law raised her son to believe that he could do no wrong no matter how much wrong he did.  At a very young age, he showed signs of serious anger issues, but his mother was determined to believe that he was and would always be perfect.  All of her own identity went into who her son was.  They had an extremely toxic relationship, to the point of being able to say that this is a novel about two women loving the same man.

The author, Kelly Rimmer, answers the unsympathetic question of “why don’t they just leave?”   As shown in the end-notes, Rimmer did her homework.  On this subject she wrote similar to Anna Quindlen’s novel “Black and Blue.”   Though Quindlen, as a Pulitzer Prize journalist winner wrote about domestic violence in a less sentimental manner than Rimmer.  Quindlen’s style of writing may not appeal to those who enjoy Rimmer, whose novel is a soul searching book with much emotional appeal.

The interactions between the two mothers were upsetting as well as fascinating to read. Although, I found fault that the mother-in-law was written as a one-dimensional character.  She was almost too easy to hate, which I did.  My main issue with this book is that is it is marketed as having a breathtaking twist.  The supposedly blindsiding incident was obvious very early on in the story.  I actually thought the author was not hiding it.  So I kept waiting for the twist right up until the last page.  This does not make the story any less of a heart-wrenching read, but it did spoil it for me.  I am having a hard time understanding how other Advanced Copy Reviewers (ACR) missed it.   I probably will not read Rimmer again, but if you are in the mood for a real tear-jerker, this one is for you.

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read