Brand new review: The Safe Place by Anna Downes

By Ekta R. Garg

July 8, 2020

Genre: Thriller

Release date: July 14, 2020

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A young woman gets the chance to start her life over when she loses her job and her acting prospects within the same day. Her new life, however, comes at a price. She just doesn’t know she’s paying it. Debut author Anna Downes amps up the thrill factor toward the end of her slow-to-start novel The Safe Place.

Emily Proudman thought she really could make a go of her newest temp job. She put in her best—well, maybe her second best—effort to get to the office in downtown London on time so she could answer phones and get coffee for people. It seemed like the perfect job for her, because she could take time off to go to auditions. Her acting career is on the cusp of taking off, she just knows it. She just needs the right role.

Unfortunately, that role isn’t coming any time soon. In fact, it’s pretty much long gone when Emily learns that her agent is moving and the agency isn’t retaining Emily as a client. Which wouldn’t be so bad if she hadn’t been fired. Or gone back to her flat only to find out she’s being evicted.

She could move back in with her parents, but she hates the way they doubt her abilities. Yes, it wouldn’t kill her to call home for something other than money, but her mom and dad just don’t get it. They never have. Maybe it’s because she’s adopted.

Everything is going downhill fast. Then the CEO of the company that just fired her approaches her with a new job. Scott Denny is handsome, charming, and seems genuinely worried about Emily’s situation. When he offers her the opportunity to get out of England and become his wife’s personal assistant in their ocean-front home in France, it seems like something out of the movies.

Emily arrives in France with the understanding that she’s going to take care of the house and help with Scott’s six-year-old daughter, Aurelia. Nina, Scott’s wife, welcomes Emily with open arms. Within weeks of arriving, Emily feels a sense of belonging at the house. Yes, she spends her days painting, weeding, and trying to make friends with Aurelia, but for once she knows her place and is completely content with life.

Except she can’t ignore the nagging feeling that Aurelia is not all right. It’s more than just the medical condition that Scott and Nina have described. The longer Emily stays in France, the more she realizes that she may have walked into a situation much bigger than she, Nina, and Scott can all handle.

Author Anna Downes presents readers with the charming bustle of London before moving Emily to the coast of France, a welcome change from the usual locations of Paris or another large city. The setting is ideal for keeping secrets. While Emily really doesn’t have any, she figures out that Nina does.

The pacing of the story, however, works against the book. Emily knows Nina is hiding something from her, and she suspects it might be something big. Yet for weeks she allows herself to get distracted by all the manual labor at the house. While Emily’s change of fortune is welcome after all the challenges she experiences in London, several chapters of her enjoying lunch on the back patio by the pool or her renewed sense of confidence don’t make for as compelling reading.

Downes manages to keep readers engaged by alternating chapters from the points of view of Emily, Scott, and an unnamed character. Readers won’t have much trouble guessing who the third person is, and as the book progresses even that third POV character’s issues become clear. What remains, then, is waiting for Emily to catch up to it all. The engagement might turn into impatience for some.

Once the ball starts rolling, it speeds toward the end. By that time, however, it might be too late for some readers to stay with the book. This novel might provide some with a pleasant distraction, but it doesn’t necessarily challenge readers. I recommend they Borrow The Safe Place.

Brand new review: Perfectly Famous by Emily Liebert

By Ekta R. Garg

July 1, 2020

Genre:

Release date:

Rated: Bypass it / 2 stars

A bestselling author disappears after the murder of her daughter. Months later, a newly-divorced former journalist becomes obsessed with finding the author. She’s convinced she’s the right person to tell the author’s story, but someone wants her to stay away. Author Emily Liebert tries to convince readers to suspend their disbelief in the unbelievable, poorly executed novel Perfectly Famous.

Even though her divorce has just become final, Bree Bennett can’t complain. Her husband let her keep their gorgeous home and is a perfect gentleman. They share custody of their teenage daughter, Chloe, and Bree needs the help. Chloe is a handful, and since the divorce she’s become even more moody and difficult to manage. Bree knows she should give Chloe time, but her husband was always the disciplinarian. Without him around, she knows her parenting isn’t what it should be.

It doesn’t help that now Bree feels at odds with her life in the suburbs. She left her exciting career in national-level journalism in New York City to become a mom. Now that she’s single again, it’s about time she gets a job and starts moving back toward the profession she loved.

The best she can do, though, is the local newspaper run by a nervous man who doesn’t know anything about running a news outlet. Bree convinces him she knows what she’s doing by covering a few community events, and she’s going to need the credibility because she has an idea for an investigative series. She knows, though, that it’s going to be a hard sell.

Bree wants to find and interview high-profile crime novelist Ward DeFleur. The previous year, Ward’s daughter, Stevie, was murdered on the night of one of Ward’s book signings. No one in the public eye has seen or heard from Ward since. Bree feels sympathy for the woman, also a single mother. Chloe was the same age as Stevie, and Bree thinks this makes her and Ward kindred spirits of sorts.

As she tentatively starts to navigate her dating life and tries to balance that with her articles, Bree finds herself stretched in too many different directions. The more she tries to look for Ward, the more pushback she receives from an unknown source. Someone is trying to warn her off Ward’s trail, and that just makes Bree more curious to find her.

Author Emily Liebert’s story starts on fairly firm footing but devolves into incredulous territory. Bree’s obsession with Ward is justified by the fact that on the night of Ward’s fateful last book signing, Bree’s husband told her he wanted a divorce. After his news, Bree goes to the signing and collapses into tears in the arms of the confused author who had never met Bree before or since. Nevertheless, in Bree’s mind that’s enough to forge a connection between her and the crime writer.

Although Bree seems keen to restart her career in journalism, she doesn’t spend that much time reporting. Not where readers can see, that is. Passing references are made to the stories she’s filing for her boss, and these along with random meetings with him are meant to convince readers she’s good at what she does.

In some ways, it’s a relief to see Bree good at her job because her character arc doesn’t give her room to be good at anything else. She’s a completely inept parent, enduring Chloe’s teen tantrums and angst with tearfulness and even more leniency. Also, while she says she can’t stop thinking about Ward, nothing about her actions rings true to the investigative journalistic spirit. She makes a few phone calls and visits the publisher who put out Ward’s books. A crucial piece of information in her “investigation” comes from her boss.

What, then, is Bree doing for most of the book? Balancing her time between two men. One she meets as the result of a blind date. The other has connections to Ward. Bree seems more determined to land one of them than she does to keep her job, parent her child, or find Ward. Her best friend, a practicing psychologist, eggs her on, and her ex-husband shows up occasionally to shake his head in disappointment at Chloe’s antics. Bree’s mother censures her over the phone from Florida, and while her dialogue might grate on the nerves it also seems to ring truer than anything else.

Incomplete subplots, unexplained details (the most frustrating tied directly to Ward’s disappearance,) and an ending that will confuse readers all make this a sure miss. I recommend readers Bypass Perfectly Famous.

Brand new review: Who Did You Tell? by Lesley Kara

By Ekta R. Garg

June 24, 2020

Genre: Psychological thriller

Release date: June 16, 2020

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

A woman struggling with addiction is stalked by someone from her past. As she fights to stay clean, she must also deal with the fallout from the wrongs she’s committed even as she tries to start building a new life for herself. Author Lesley Kara’s newest novel starts slow but picks up steam in her newest novel Who Did You Tell?

Astrid Phelps has hit bottom, and she knows it when she moves from London to the small town of Flinstead. She’s left behind the charms—and temptations—of big city life. As dull as Flinstead is right now, it’s exactly what she needs as a newly-sober alcoholic.

After some apprehension, her mother’s agreed to let her move back home. At first Astrid doesn’t quite know what to do with herself. She’s going to AA meetings, yes, but it’s depressing and disheartening to be surrounded by the sad people who show up. One person in particular, Rosie, has taken a shine to Astrid and keeps trying to convince her that God is the solution to all of her problems. But Rosie’s been sober for eight years, and Astrid doesn’t think she would understand her kinds of problems.

Every day Astrid carries the weight of a secret. That secret makes her think of her ex-boyfriend, Simon, a fellow drunk who used to party it up with Astrid. They loved each other. They were also terrible for each other when it came to their addictions. Until the day Simon decided once and for all to get sober.

Now Astrid is trying to focus on her own future. She’s constantly fighting the urge to drink, and meeting a nice guy helps. Josh is sweet and funny and caring. He even helps Astrid get a job in art, something she thought she’d lost forever.

Everything seems to be turning around…until the messages start. Someone from Astrid’s past is sending her signals, pictures, and menacing messages that tell her they won’t let her forget the horrible mistakes she’s made. Because Astrid has made mistakes that have changed—and ended—lives. She’s determined to free herself from her past, but someone thinks she should be held prisoner to what has gone on before.

Author Lesley Kara takes time in leading readers through the opening chapters of the book, which is where the novel’s one main weakness lies. For the first third, readers follow Astrid as she attends meetings and spends a lot of time taking long walks and pondering her life. It might be tempting to let the book go, yet Kara includes just enough to keep readers engaged.

After that first third, however, with a startling reveal of a key piece of information, the pace picks up. As the stalker comes closer, Astrid’s compulsion to drink grows. Kara doesn’t give Astrid an easy way out, and readers will hold their breaths every time Astrid finds herself within the vicinity of alcohol. The author details with authenticity the immense struggle recovering alcoholics most likely experience every time they face a pressure point that would previously induce them to drink.

Astrid has made errors grave enough to make readers pause, yet her flaws are exactly why the audience will cheer her on. She takes full responsibility for her actions and agonizes over them day and night. She also understands that giving in to the longing to drink won’t erase the past, and as she fights those urges readers will hope for her to win.

The end comes with a satisfying number of twists and turns, and readers will find themselves guessing with glee at the answers to the questions that arise. This is a fun summer book worth the time. I recommend readers Bookmark Who Did You Tell?.

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