Brand new review: I Thought You Said This Would Work by Ann Garvin

May 5, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: May 1, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

Two women go on a road trip together at the request of their mutual best friend. Despite not speaking for years, the women force themselves to work together for their friend’s sake. Along the way, they run into D-list celebrities, meet new pets, and old memories. Author Ann Garvin returns with her best work yet in the touching, well-rounded novel I Thought You Said This Would Work.

Samantha Arias would do anything for her friend, Katie. Absolutely anything. The two have survived life challenges together—the death of Sam’s husband; Katie’s infertility and divorce. Sam stood by Katie through her first cancer diagnosis and treatment; Katie made sure Sam remembered to eat when she was newly widowed and a new mother all at the same time.

The one problem the two haven’t cracked is what happened with their other best friend, Holly. Well, former best friend, for Sam at least. Inseparable in college, the three balanced one another like a tripod. When graduation came and went, though, so did Holly. Sam knows Holly was mad at her about something, but she has no idea what.

Katie has stayed in touch with both friends independently, and she’s tried broaching the topic with Holly. In typical Holly fashion, she cut off Katie’s attempts. Sam agonizes over the loss of her friend, but she can’t do much about it.

Until now. Katie’s cancer is back, and she needs everything good in her life from the first time she fought the disease. That includes her dog, Peanut, a Great Pyrenees that her ex-husband, Tom, took to California when they divorced. After Sam, Peanut was Katie’s closest companion. It might seem silly to non-pet people like Holly, but Katie can’t get through this latest round of cancer without Peanut.

Sam volunteers to bring Peanut home, but Peanut’s size and his diabetes make it impossible to fly him back. The only option is to drive. In fact, back when Katie and Tom were together, they’d bought a camper to drive Peanut around. It would be ideal if someone could bring back the camper with Peanut in it.

Holly points out that Sam won’t be able to make the trip. Sam suffers from a sleep disorder that forces her to nap at the most inconvenient times; there’s no way, Holly says, that Sam will survive a trip from California back to their native Wisconsin—about 2000 miles—all by herself while also managing Peanut’s condition.

Holly may be right, but for Sam not helping Katie isn’t an option. When Katie begs her to take Holly with her—Holly’s driving Katie and her hospital healthcare team nuts—Sam knows there’s no other way to do this. Because it’s for Katie, she agrees.

On the way to California, Sam meets minor celebrity Summer. Before anyone knows how, Summer invites herself along for the road trip. Between an unexpected detour to Utah, Summer insisting that Sam get her aura checked out, and Holly’s outright hostility toward Sam, the entire trip seems doomed. Yet along the way, Sam discovers things about herself that were hidden below the surface. She also figures out that getting back to a good place with Holly means getting back to a good place with herself first.

Author Ann Garvin’s strengths in writing are obvious from the opening pages of the book. Sam’s compassion and deep love for Katie are at odds with her confusion about what happened with Holly. Garvin doesn’t shy away from conflicted feelings. Sam wants Holly back in her life, but she also feels like Holly should have trusted their friendship enough to tell her.

Garvin makes what could be characterized as an off-the-wall premise feel organic. Early on, Summer becomes the mouthpiece for Sam’s hidden feelings. Readers will cheer her on, even as they urge Sam to find her own voice.

If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s in Holly’s willfulness to stay blind to Sam’s friendship. While time and physical distance make it easy to hold onto grudges, Holly continues to do so when she, Sam, and Summer are together. At some point, members of the target audience might feel like telling Holly to grow up already. Sam clearly wants to work things out. Holly comes across as a high school “mean girl” stuck in an adult’s body. Her change in character, then, isn’t quite as turnkey as the rest of the novel.

Overall, the book is funny and sweet without being saccharine. Fans of road trip books and stories about friendships will definitely enjoy this one. I recommend readers Bookmark I Thought You Said This Would Work.

Newest review: Win by Harlan Coben

By Ekta R. Garg

April 28, 2021

Genre: Mystery/thriller

Release date: March 16, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

An ultra-rich, privileged man with connections to the FBI is called in to consult on a case. As he digs deeper into the information on hand and uses his own resources to find out more, he discovers that the decades-old case has ties close to home. Author Harlan Coben is back with a fantastic thriller that combines swag and mystery in his latest book Win.

Windsor Horne Lockwood III—or Win, as he likes to be known—is the epitome of the privileged white male. Born into a family of immeasurable wealth, he wears only the finest clothes, uses his private helicopter to bypass New York City traffic, and is okay if people think he’s a rich jerk. He has no illusions about how his family’s money gives him a leg up in the world.

Win also knows right from wrong in a way that is starkly black and white. If he thinks something is wrong, he can take care of it. If taking care of it means falling into a gray area where the law is concerned, he’s not too worried about it.

Part of that ease comes from the fact that Win has consulted on FBI cases from time to time. He doesn’t go looking for law enforcement; they come looking for him. And after a body is found in a well-known New York apartment building, the FBI come for Win. They ask if he recognizes the deceased, which he doesn’t, but there is one thing that catches Win’s attention right away: in the dead man’s apartment hangs an original Vermeer painting stolen from Win’s family more than 20 years earlier.

The Lockwood family had loaned out the Vermeer and a Picasso to nearby Haverford College. In a daring theft in the middle of the night that left a security guard bound and gagged in the basement, both paintings were stolen. Despite the family’s efforts, neither painting was ever retrieved. Until now.

The FBI agents assigned to the case find the entire situation suspicious. In addition to the Vermeer, they found a suitcase in the dead man’s apartment that has Win’s initials on it. Win has no idea how the suitcase got there, just as he has no idea who the man is.

His former FBI handler, PT, does. The dead man is someone the FBI has hunting for a while, a person of interest in a domestic terrorism attack from the early 1970s. Several people died, and six college students went on the run. Known as the Jane Street Six, the students went underground almost immediately. The FBI and all other law enforcement lost track of them. The dead man found in the same apartment as the Lockwood family’s Vermeer and Win’s suitcase was one of the Jane Street Six.

PT wants to know how it’s all connected, and Win has found a driving interest in the case as well. With FBI information to substantiate his hunches and to offer clues where to go next, Win begins his own investigation. He uses his resources, his intelligence, and even his charm to find out all he can about how the Jane Street Six is tied to the painting and to a darker episode in his family’s life. Before it’s all over, even Win will be surprised a time or two.

Author Harlan Coben knows exactly how to handle his audience, and his skillful writing shines in this latest book. Win is full of himself and doesn’t hesitate to tell readers this. He’s fully aware of just how privileged he actually is, a refreshing change from characters who enjoy all the perks of wealth while still ignoring how that wealth sets them apart. Win, though, revels in that separation. When he can, he widens it.

By the same token, Coben doesn’t let readers forget that Win is working a case. Here Coben’s experience in writing mysteries will guarantee that readers will be flipping or swiping pages as fast as possible. With a delicate touch, Coben weaves together everything in Win’s life: his excessive wealth and status as well as his laser focus on the case at hand. Despite Win’s active efforts to distance himself emotionally from everyone around him, this case has touched a nerve. He’s not going to rest until he solves it.

If the book can be faulted anywhere, it’s about two-thirds of the way through when a few details get a little hairy. Coben’s writing, however, will pull readers through to the satisfying conclusion and, hopefully, the setup for future novels about the arrogant problem solver.

Fans of solid thrillers will thoroughly enjoy this one. Anyone who wants an insider’s take on just what it means to be rich beyond belief would also probably really like the book. I recommend readers Bookmark Win.

Latest review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

By Ekta R. Garg

April 21, 2021

Genre: Women’s fiction

Release date: April 13, 2021

Rated: Bordering on Bypass it / 2.5 stars

A young woman with sensory issues decides to give her sister the ultimate gift to show her gratitude for her support. As the woman delves into the tricky world of emotions, she begins to learn that her sister may have kept secrets that affect them both. Sally Hepworth builds an intriguing storyline let down by a major plot twist in her latest book The Good Sister.

Fern Castle knows two things for a fact: she doesn’t like loud noises or crowds, and she would never have gotten along in life without her twin, Rose, to help her. When the girls were 12, their single mother suffered a terrible accident that sent the twins to foster care. Now that they’re adults, they’re closer than ever. Fern knows she can count on Rose for anything, like helping her when she gets overwhelmed.

The feeling can sneak up on her if she’s not careful, because Fern deals with a sensory disability. Rose, however, knows exactly what to do to help her. For that Fern is always grateful, even if Rose can be a little bossy at times.

One place that Fern knows what to do is at the library where she works. She’s good at her job and is always happy to help patrons, even if she has trouble looking them in the eye. Her mentor trained her well and gave Fern the confidence she needed to become a librarian. Even though her mentor is gone, Fern isn’t going to let her down.

She won’t let Rose down either, even if Rose doesn’t know about her plan. After a conversation with her sister, Fern discovers that Rose and her husband are having trouble getting pregnant. Fern questions whether she would ever make a good mother herself. She has no doubt that Rose would; after all, Rose was always protecting her from their mother, from the verbal and physical abuse that Rose remembers so vividly. That convinces Fern that Rose would be an excellent mother. If Rose can’t have a baby, Fern will just have one for her.

Even with the best of intentions, Fern knows Rose may not approve of the plan so she doesn’t tell her right away. She has sensory issues, after all, not mental ones. Besides, she’ll have to find a father willing to go through with the plan too. As Fern begins to stretch herself by getting to know people outside of her carefully curated circle, she discovers that life may not always be as straightforward as she thinks. That includes the memories she and Rose share.

Author Sally Hepworth returns with her trademark depth of character and her engaging storyline. Readers will find themselves concerned for Rose and chuckling along with Fern’s practical, no-nonsense approach to life. Hepworth also highlights how a person dealing with sensory issues faces each and every day. Readers will applaud her focus on this little-covered medical challenge. The research and careful detailing speak for themselves.

The novel fails with the major plot twist about the girls’ mother that comes about two-thirds of the way through the book. Hepworth asks readers to change emotional gears in such a way that it actually stalls the story instead of propelling it forward. The painstaking layering of plot and character Hepworth undertakes to this point come undone. Readers will have a hard time making the switch and accepting the inevitable story that follows.

Other plot devices stand out for their excellence, and Fern will definitely win hearts for her tenacity. Devout fans of Hepworth’s books may want to check this one out. Otherwise, I recommend that The Good Sister Borders on Bypassing it.