Deb Donovan

Paula Treick DeBoard’s engrossing fourth novel is both a perceptive character study and a timely portrait of the unquestioned power that many in political office feel is theirs, merely as part of the election process.

DeBoard introduces her central characters as they become roommates during their freshman year at Keale College in Connecticut: Lauren is the daughter of a U.S. senator from Connecticut and his wife, the heir to a small island off the coast of Maine where the family spends part of each summer, and Megan is from a middle-class family in a small Kansas town. Megan intended to enroll as Kansas State University, but after her father dies of mesothelioma, his insurance pays for her to go out of state—and she discovers Keale, a private women’s college where the insurance will just cover four years’ tuition.

Megan realizes soon after her arrival on campus how different her life has been from that of her classmates—girls who went to the same prep schools and summer camps, who took private tennis lessons and spent their summers on the Cape. But somehow small-town Megan and daughter-of-a-senator Lauren become fast friends, spending hours sharing secrets and their hopes for the future. Lauren praises Megan’s writing endeavors, and Megan in turn encourages Lauren’s newfound love of photography—the only thing that really motivates her, despite her mother’s constant push toward law or medicine.

Lauren invites Megan to the family home for Christmas their sophomore year—and then again the summer before their senior year, when Megan spends five weeks on the family’s private island, accompanied for the last week by Lauren’s older sister, Kat, and brother, Michael, just out of law school.

DeBoard deftly moves back and forth in time between the girls’ college years and the week in October 2016—14 years later—when Megan finally tells the truth about what happened to her the last night she spent on the island. That horrific event changed her life completely and severed her bond with Lauren. DeBoard adds this element of suspense over the final outcome to her insightful and emotional portrayal of these two young women—a story highly recommended to readers who enjoy novels by Anita Shreve and Jacquelyn Mitchard.

Paula Treick DeBoard’s engrossing fourth novel is both a perceptive character study and a timely portrait of the unquestioned power that many in political office feel is theirs, merely as part of the election process.

BookPage Fiction Top Pick, August 2014

Australian author Liane Moriarty portrays elementary school drama in her latest page-turner, Big Little Lies, which comes on the heels of her first U.S. bestseller, The Husband’s Secret. At Pirriwee Public School, petty jealousies and rumors all come to the surface in one “perfect storm”—otherwise known as the annual trivia night.

Amid a large cast of kindergarten parents, Moriarty focuses on three women: Madeline, not pleased she’s turning 40; Celeste, a raving beauty whose husband is obscenely wealthy; and newcomer Jane, a young single mom who just recently moved to the pristine beachside community of Pirriwee.

Madeline and her husband Ed have a daughter, Chloe, in kindergarten, and a 7-year-old son, as well as a 14-year-old daughter, Abigail, from her first marriage. Her ex-husband and his young wife, a free-spirited yoga fanatic, have a daughter who will be in Chloe’s class at Pirriwee Public, much to Madeline’s dismay. When Madeline befriends Jane and introduces her to Celeste, whose twins are also entering kindergarten at Pirriwee, the three women and their children enter what Madeline describes as “a minefield” of school politics together—one they must start navigating on the very first day.

Over the six months preceding the school’s most eventful trivia night ever, Moriarty reveals some of those politics, as well as secrets harbored by each of these women—even as they become close friends. Bullying, infidelity and more enter the picture in surprising ways, reminding readers that everyone has secrets. Moriarty has crafted a great summer read full of perceptive glimpses into the many guises of human relationships: mother-child, husband-wife (and ex-wife) and above all, the strong bond of female friendships.

RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Liane Moriarty about Big Little Lies.

This article was originally published in the August 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

 

Australian author Liane Moriarty portrays elementary school drama in her latest page-turner, Big Little Lies, which comes on the heels of her first U.S. bestseller, The Husband’s Secret. At Pirriwee Public School, petty jealousies and rumors all come to the surface in one “perfect storm”—otherwise known as the annual trivia night.

In his latest gripping crime novel—the first in a series—Tom Piccirilli introduces the Rands, a family of small-time thieves and card sharps who frequently run up against the law but are seldom prosecuted . . . and who seldom resort to violence. Until five years before the novel opens, that is, when Collie Rand (family members are named after dog breeds) goes on a bizarre rampage one evening and murders eight people, including a family of five vacationing in a mobile home, a gas station attendant and an elderly woman.

Since then, Collie’s brother Terry (short for Terrier) has gone straight—moving out West, working on a ranch, and trying to deal with the shame, guilt and rage that still haunt him daily. But just days before Collie’s scheduled execution, the family summons Terry home, telling him that the brother with whom he has had no contact since that horrific night wants to see him.

Collie wants Terry to help prove that Collie is innocent of the last of the murders for which he was found guilty—the strangulation of a young woman in a park. Not only does he want to be absolved of that one crime, he also worries that the real murderer may still be at large.

Piccirilli has won two International Thriller Writers Awards and been nominated for the Edgar Award, considered the most prestigious award in the mystery genre. With The Last Kind Words, he deftly blends the mystery element of a possible serial murderer with the relationships within this unique family, where criminal dexterity is passed on from one generation to the next like athletic prowess or a talent for music. Each worries that any one of them could suddenly be overwhelmed by “the underneath,” as Collie was that one unfathomable night. Full of atmosphere and featuring a fascinating cast, this is a true find for lovers of literary mystery.

In his latest gripping crime novel—the first in a series—Tom Piccirilli introduces the Rands, a family of small-time thieves and card sharps who frequently run up against the law but are seldom prosecuted . . . and who seldom resort to violence. Until five years before the novel opens, that is, when Collie Rand (family […]

The privileged and insular society of an Eastern prep school in the 1980s is unveiled and brought vividly to life in Amber Dermont’s emotionally rich debut novel.

Jason Prosper has been banned from Kensington, his parents’ prep school of choice, and is now beginning his senior year at Bellingham Academy—where students who have been “kicked out of better schools for stealing, or having sex, or smoking weed” end up. As Jason walks out of his Manhattan penthouse in September, he realizes the only person he will miss is his doorman. Jason’s father, who looks “more like a member of the British House of Lords” than a dad, drops him off. It’s clear that he cares less about Jason’s happiness than he does about his possible acceptance to Princeton at year’s end.

Enter the privileged, insular world of an East Coast prep school in this sensitively wrought debut.

Dermont gradually reveals Jason’s devastation and guilt over the suicide junior year of Cal, his best friend and sailing partner at Kensington. At Bellingham he reconnects with sons of his parents’ friends from the past—New England boarding schools being a “small, incestuous world” where everyone knows whose money is oldest, and who vacations in St. Moritz or Tuscany. Though Jason bonds with this predictable mélange of jocks and the sons of investment bankers and fund managers (it’s 1987, and Black Monday looms), he remains as aloof as possible, comparing them to Cal, and hesitant to get close to someone he might lose. He meets Aidan, a girl who’s also carrying troubling baggage to Bellingham, and they forge a special relationship—tentative at first, but gradually deepening as they learn to trust one another with painful secrets from their pasts.

At this point, Dermont injects a third element into her tale of coming-of-age in the land of the wealthy—a mystery surrounding the discovery of a body on the beach after a violent storm. It’s first ruled an accident, then announced by the dean as suicide, but Jason begins putting together the pieces from that night which lead to a far different verdict—one that involves his so-called friends.

Dermont writes beautifully—about the sea and sailing, about her diverse characters and about the youthful pain of love lost.

The privileged and insular society of an Eastern prep school in the 1980s is unveiled and brought vividly to life in Amber Dermont’s emotionally rich debut novel. Jason Prosper has been banned from Kensington, his parents’ prep school of choice, and is now beginning his senior year at Bellingham Academy—where students who have been “kicked […]

Composer Alan Lazar’s debut novel traces the life of Nelson, a half-beagle, half-poodle mutt who is put up for adoption at a Boston pet store—a disappointment to the shop owner, who prefers dogs with a pedigree. Two weeks later, Nelson is in danger of being sent to the pound when newlyweds Katey, a concert pianist, and her husband Don decide Nelson is the dog for them. All goes well for two years, but when Katey and Don’s marriage starts to fall apart due to Don’s infidelity, Nelson escapes from their yard and quickly becomes lost. Katey searches for him for weeks, but eventually gives up.

Over the next eight years, Nelson has many adventures. He sees the world from the passenger seat of the truck; scavenges from dumpsters; finds a female friend who helps stave off his loneliness; escapes from two shelters, losing a hind leg in the process; and even lives with a pack of wolves for several months. Through it all, he never loses sight of his goal to reunite with Katey, his “Great Love.”

Carrying through Nelson’s lengthy odyssey is his fine-tuned sense of smell—the incredibly reliable survival mechanism that never fails to keep him from starvation, leads him to friendly humans and steers him away from danger. Lazar’s portrayal of its power will ring true for dog owners. Roam will appeal most strongly to pet lovers—a not-insignificant proportion of the reading public—and will likely be added to bookshelves that include titles like Dewey the Library Cat, The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Lazar has crafted an adventure guaranteed to capture the interest of the reader—who hopes, like Nelson, that the dog will somehow make it home to Katey.

Composer Alan Lazar’s debut novel traces the life of Nelson, a half-beagle, half-poodle mutt who is put up for adoption at a Boston pet store—a disappointment to the shop owner, who prefers dogs with a pedigree. Two weeks later, Nelson is in danger of being sent to the pound when newlyweds Katey, a concert pianist, […]

The term “page-turner” is undoubtedly used much too often to describe a gripping novel of suspense, but Sister, a terrific debut by British author Rosamund Lupton, certainly fits the bill. And more than that, it’s a poignant and perceptive depiction of the emotional bonds between two sisters—bonds which remained strong even as years passed and an ocean came between sisters Beatrice and Tess.

Lupton uses an intriguing device throughout the novel—writing in the form of a letter from Beatrice, the older sister who has moved to New York, to her dead sister Tess, who stayed in London to be near their mother. The letter begins just as “the trial” is about to begin—so the reader knows that suicide was not the cause of Tess’ death, as the police first surmised—but it’s the whole thread of events leading up to the trial that provides the novel’s never-ending suspense.

Bea, who is usually in touch daily with Tess, has been on a trip with no cell or Internet service for several days, and so she learns of Tess’ disappearance from their mother, and flies immediately to London. She moves into Tess’ flat and is in constant contact with the police until Tess’ body is found in an abandoned park restroom, her arms slashed. Bea’s letter to her sister moves back and forth in time, relating all the details of her suspicions that Tess was murdered and her investigations into Tess’ relationships in search of possible suspects, including the married father of her recently stillborn child, her psychiatrist and a student who was obsessed with her. Then the letter shifts to the present, where Bea is giving detailed testimony to the prosecuting attorney.

The result is a superb thriller, full of twists and turns, false leads and a surprise ending—all seamlessly woven into a touching story of a sisterly bond that one imagines closely matches that of the talented first-time author and her own (still very much alive) sister.

The term “page-turner” is undoubtedly used much too often to describe a gripping novel of suspense, but Sister, a terrific debut by British author Rosamund Lupton, certainly fits the bill. And more than that, it’s a poignant and perceptive depiction of the emotional bonds between two sisters—bonds which remained strong even as years passed and […]

Sign Up

Stay on top of new releases: Sign up for our enewsletters to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres.

Trending Features

Sign Up

Sign up to receive reading recommendations in your favorite genres!