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           Cottage by the Sea

 

By Debbie Macomber

Ballantine Books

July 17, 2018

10: 0399181253

978-0399181252

Contemporary Women's Fiction

352 pages

 

Physician’s assistant Annie Marlow, happy with her life and job in southern California, feels guilty when her mother pleads with her to come home for Thanksgiving. Given a four-day weekend, she wants to spend the time with her friends and cousin, Gabby, who is flying in to join her. Annie loves her family and looks forward to being with her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and their toddler daughter, though she plans to be with them during her December break.

Imagine her horror and shock when she learns her family's home near Seattle is swept away in a mudslide early Thanksgiving morning and all five inside perish. Annie realizes if she were there, she too, would have died, and now she is plagued with survivor's guilt. This loss takes a tremendous toll on her emotions and for 16 months she wallows in depression and self-pity. The only ones left are Gabby, her mom, and her aunt Sherry. Worried about her, Sherry and Gabby push her to move on.

No longer wanting to go back to her Los Angeles job, she remembers the summers when she was young and they rented a cottage in Oceanside. She impulsively drives there and she sees a job posted at the local clinic, for which she submits her resume believing when she is hired this is where she is meant to be. She moves there looking to rent the little house they stayed in for many years.

Unfortunately, it along with the main house is in disrepair, but Annie is determined. When she informs the real estate agent of her desire for the house, she is dissuaded, but a guy painting the office overhears her request and tells her he'll talk to the owner, Mellie Johnson. This is a woman Annie's brother had crushed on while they were on vacation, but who is now a recluse. Somehow this strapping, yet handsome man, Seth Keaton, convinces Mellie to give Annie a year's lease.

Mellie has been unwilling to rent out the cottage, but eventually she'd relented. Mellie depended on him [Keaton]. He'd never asked her for anything . . . he was asking now and he wasn't taking no for an answer. He made sure renting the cottage to Annie was important to him. Naturally, being Mellie, she had a list of requirements.

Thrilled and awestruck by Keaton, a man of very few words, Annie and he become friends. Annie settles in, realizing she is where she is supposed to be. Though she still carries a heavy burden of grief, she discovers she's not the only one. Keaton and Mellie both have hurtful scars they hide behind their façade, scars Annie hopes to heal.

As a closeness forms, Annie finds herself falling for Keaton, unknowing he has loved her since the first time he saw her at age 14.

Keaton didn't know what had brought Annie to Oceanside. All he cared about was that she was back. He'd been given a second chance, and by all that was right, he intended to put this new opportunity to good use.

As with all of Debbie Macomber's novels, she delves into the crux of emotion, striving to conclude with a "happy-ever-after," of which she never disappoints. Her well-fleshed characters convey their pain and vulnerability, with which readers will empathize, making for a delightful read.  

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers

   

By Terri-Lynne DeFino
William Morrow Paperbacks
June 12, 2018
10:0062742671
978-0062742674
336 pages
Contemporary Women's Fiction

Authors don't stop writing when they get old. Some move to the Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly, where they spend their remaining days schmoozing with their peers and being treated like the idols they have become. 

Many years ago, aspiring writer Cornelius Traegar, mentor to Alfonse Carducci, purchased a mansion along the coast of Maine that was badly in need of renovation. The idea was to make this into a final dwelling place for well-known artists in the editorial field. Unfortunately, Cornelius died at a young age leaving his suite unoccupied for more than a decade. Now Alfonse, old and in poor health, takes up residency here where the affluent live like royalty until their maker calls them home. 

Alfonse, known as a prolific scribe as well as a womanizer, is in failing health and knows his days are numbered. He spends his time in his room, frail and depressed, waiting to die.

Even sitting in the sunshine was too much for him. The breeze, warm and steady, coming off the ocean, snatched his breath. He would persevere through the lobster-bake luncheon—of which he could not partake of a single claw, mollusk, or cob—and asked to be returned to his room. Quietly. He didn't want to ruin the festivities for Raymond or Olivia or Judi. He didn't want them to know how truly feeble he was.

Orderly, Cecibel Bringer, who is awed by Alfonse's acumen as a novelist, practically blubbers in front of him, yet manages to draw him out of his shell. Her adoration feeds his tired ego, making him feel young and virile again, at least in spirit. 

Never believing he would pen another book, Cecibel reminds Alfonse of his younger days. His old cronies, authors Olivia Peppernell, Raymond Switcher “Switch,” and Judi Arsenault, his prior editor, also inhabit the residence. They band together and surreptitiously initiate a new novel. Set in the 1950s, Cecibel unknowingly becomes their muse, yet their protagonist (Cecilia) is not flawed like Cecibel.

Cecible, is hiding away, living and working at the home for many years. She is mostly a recluse after a horrendous accident disfigures her allowing her employment to give her the chance to conceal herself from the public while she assuages her pain and guilt. Her respect for Alfonse intensifies as she opens up to him and also makes friends with Finlay Pottinger, the resident maintenance worker. Fin too is trying to overcome a sordid past, yet he is forthcoming about his sins of long ago. 

A lively mix of the old and new, The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers offers two novels in one. The reader gets the opportunity to enjoy a tale describing the present-day lives of fictional legendary artisans. The enchanting new story they create helps them reminisce of days gone by while giving insight into the post World War II years. This gives the authors the motivation to not give up while making the most of the time they have  left. The depth of emotion and recall of their past is cathartic to the elders, while throughout their venture they demonstrate love and acceptance to a damaged young woman enabling her to believe in herself and make her life worthwhile. 

The Outsider

 

By Stephen King

Scribner

May 22, 2018

10-1501180983

978-1501180989

576 pages

Horror

Terry Maitland is an upstanding resident of Flint City. Married to Marcy, the father of two little girls, Terry also is an English teacher and Little League coach. His reputation has always been above reproach, as many adults, as well as children, look up to him. 

The story commences with Detective Anderson interviewing Jonathan Ritz, a man who discovers 11-year-old Frankie Peterson's defiled body in the local park. The witness interviews read precise and exact as to what one would expect transcribed from real-life investigations. Somewhat boring with unnecessary verbiage, this is King's way of getting into his character's heads and leading his "Constant Reader" (his term) to a climax. 

Imagine Terry's astonishment when during a game he is coaching, he is greeted on the field by his long-time friend, Detective Ralph Anderson, who arrests him for Frankie's murder. Most of the townsfolk are in attendance to bear witness to this action, including Marcy and the Maitland children. Stunned and distressed, they cannot understand what is happening. Through tears and disbelief, Marcy's friend takes the girls to her home when Marcy learns a warrant is submitted to search their house. 

Marcy thought: An hour ago the most important thing in my life was a Golden Dragons win and a trip to the finals. 


Terry swears his innocence of any wrongdoing and offers an airtight alibi, yet witnesses swear seeing him with Frankie and later, covered in blood, exiting the area where the boy was found. His fingerprints and other DNA attest to his guilt.

However, Terry's alibi checks out from several colleagues in his presence at the time of the crime, as well as security videos. So, how can the authorities have ironclad evidence that he, in fact, committed this deed? No one can be two places at once. This is where things get chilling. 

Bill Hodges, a key player from King's trilogy and the mini-series, Mr. Mercedes is remembered in this novel. Holly Gibney, Hodges' protégé, now runs Hodges' company, Finders Keepers' (a private investigation firm), after his death is called in on this case. Fables and folklore of long ago surface, bringing an eerie impact into place. Can a person be two places at once? Does the supernatural really exist? 

No, not in the real world, where drunk incompetents like Jack Hoskins got pay bumps. All Ralph had  experienced in his nearly fifty years of lie denied the idea. Denied there was even the possibility of such a thing. Yet as he sat here looking at Fred (or what remained of him), Ralph had to admit there was  something devilish about the way the boy's death has spread, taking not just one or two members of his nuclear family, but the whole shebang. 

King drags out his plot, which for him, works very well. The intricate and defined description of his characters and locations pull the reader right into the scene. Some may find it off-putting, but this is how he grabs one when least expected. His prose contains the normal vernacular of the present time, along with profanity and shock effect with no holds barred, yet compels one to continue reading, anticipating a profound and astonishing conclusion, while not wanting the book to end.

Masterfully written and sure to supply plenty of creepy-crawlies, The Outsider by Stephen King once again hits the ball out of the park.  

By Invitation Only

 

By Dorothea Benton Frank

William Morrow

May 15, 2018

10-0062390821

978-0062390823

Contemporary Women's Fiction

400 Pages

 

Once again we're back in the slow-paced Low Country of South Carolina. Instead of the locale being the beach, we meet the English family who owns and operates a working farm. Started generations ago, the farm’s claim to fame is not only the abundance of vegetables and fruits they harvest, but their ever delightful peaches to be eaten either whole, as jam, or in the delectable pies they make and sell at their stand. 

Diane English-Stiftel shares the rambling old farmhouse with her parents, and her brother Floyd resides in a trailer on the property. Single parent to her son, Frederick, Diane is preparing to celebrate his betrothal to Shelby Cambria, daughter of the wealthy owner of a private equity firm in Chicago.

Fred, a Chicago CPA, fell in love with Shelby at first sight. Now the two families are meeting. This is where the humor begins. Shelby's pretentious and snotty mom, Susan, likens Diane's dress and family home to Little House on the Prairie. She gasps at how the "other half lives," fearing her daughter is making a big mistake.

For the event, Floyd prepares Irma, his favorite sow for a pig-picking feast, and before Susan has time to show her surprise and disgust, she is attracted to Floyd's good looks and charm. Needless to say, her husband, Alejandro spends most of his time on the phone for business meetings, leaving Susan to her daydreams. 

Diane's mother, Miss Virnell, is the typical southern momma. She is straight-forward, open, and speaks her mind, but it's easy to grasp she and Diane do not like Susan, "that pretentious little witch!" 
Normal for Benton Frank's books, hilarity sneaks in throughout. Imagine "Miss Uppity" (Susan's) shock when Isabella, the cow, makes an appearance at the outdoor fete. She believes Shelby is marrying into a family of hillbillies, yet she knows Shelby loves Fred. Her plan is to give them a very lavish wedding, outdoing any of her contemporaries, even wanting to spend $40,000 on butterflies to be released after the ceremony! How can the two families come to terms when they are so different and not just financially?

Thanksgiving arrives and Diane's father suddenly passes away of a heart attack, adding heartache to the chaos of the upcoming nuptials. No one is in the mood to observe the holidays then Susan phones Diane in a tizzy:

"Why, hello, Susan! How are you this morning?"

"How am I? I'll tell you how I am! Not happy! I am not happy!"

"Why? What's wrong?" . . .

"Your son is turning my daughter into a socialist, that's what!"

"A socialist? What do you mean a socialist?"

"I've been planning Shelby's wedding since the day she was born. And all through the years, I've been attending one gorgeous affair after another. Now it's my turn! I've been planning this wedding for months and now they want to move it up to January!"

As Susan continues with her tirade, Diane deals with her rudeness, thinking:

"Strangely, I was not as insulted as I probably should have been. The truth is, I knew what she thought of us the first time I met her. She was  horrified. And seeing her home in Chicago only underscored my thoughts. Our lives were worlds apart. We had almost zero in common except that our children were in love and about to be married. And it was the children I really cared about."

Diane and Susan share their inner musings throughout separate chapters, and one wonders if the two opposites will ever form a camaraderie if for nothing else but their children. Familial affection is displayed in differing ways, yet is always evident. Toss in an engagement party complete with a clucking chicken and some unpredictable and upsetting events, mix everything together and you end up with an uproarious and heartwarming read. 

Benton Frank's characters are both brazen and down-to-earth. As in all her novels, her audience is part of the script, akin to coming home after a long time away and being enveloped in the warmth and loving care of a family. Eccentric, thought-provoking and hilarious, her charming tales envelop the reader into the plot with each and every book she publishes.
 

  Remind Me Again What Happened

 

By Joanna Luloff

Algonquin Books

June 26, 2018

10: 1565129229

978-1565129221

288 Pages

Psychological Thriller

 

When does friendship cross boundaries to become more? As graduate students, Rachel, Claire, and Charlie form an inseparable bond. Rachel's parents die unexpectedly and Claire, a natural nurturer, gets her out of her funk by moving in with her at parents' spacious home in Boston. Before long Charlie also takes up residence in the home they name "The Orphanage."

Years pass with Charlie marrying Claire and relocating to Vermont where Charlie is in charge of the local newspaper. Claire freelances as a reporter in exotic locales, giving her the opportunity to travel and discover other cultures, which puts a strain on their marriage.

While on assignment in the remote area of Tamil Nadu, Claire gets bitten by a mosquito causing her to suffer from high fevers, seizures, and damage to her central nervous system. Diagnosed as having Japanese encephalitis and lucky to be alive Claire is transported to a Florida hospital.

Charlie rushes to her side and though very ill, she retains no memory of her recent past—her childhood and the time before Vermont are attainable, but with her and Charlie's lives together, she is blocked. The doctors report this is not unusual, but Claire must be kept quiet and on medication with the hope she will regain her lost months and years.

Rachel leaves her editing position to help Claire recover in Vermont. Tension abounds as well as mistrust and resentment as the three try to find some sort of semblance to their lives.

Each character voices their circumstances. Rachel's discourse shows her feelings: Claire, in a way, has always written our stories. Charlie and I have both always looked to her to tell us what comes next. I am waiting for her to show us how to go forward from here. I sense that Charlie is waiting for the same thing.

But if Charlie is right about Claire's acts of revision, then our next step may actually be a step back into the past. Perhaps I am even more eager for her to lead us in that direction. Maybe she will crack open the truth of what happened to us. I've been waiting all these years for her merely to explain why. I'd forgive her if she'd help me understand. 

Meanwhile, Claire puzzles through her mind: I am remembering the first kiss Charlie ever offered me, that gentle graze against my neck, sheepish and quick, testing my reaction. How did I react? The memory is frayed . . . There is guilt attached to this memory, something I most certainly feel, although I can't be sure why. Did I hurt Charlie by not responding to his kiss? Did Rachel take offense at this small act of intimacy?

Charlie's ruminations are as such: I wonder if Claire, even then, saw our life—my life—as too small. Our relationship was happening over the static connections of long-distance phone calls. Perhaps if I had made more time away from work. Perhaps if I hadn't grown defensive when she mocked me about what was keeping me so late at the office . . . Perhaps then we wouldn't be in this stifling predicament where Claire is upstairs and I am downstairs and one of us, at any given moment, is uncertain about why the other seems so full of anger and impatience and disappointment.

The ever-changing twists and turns with the juxtaposition of three lives seeped in history, secrets, and frustrations blend together to create a story of how easily life can change. Emotion runs rampant, yet the enjoyment of this novel is slowed down by a lot of in-depth back-story offering inconsequential information.

Last Girl Gone

 

By J. G. Hetherton

Crooked Lane Books

June 12, 2018

10-1683316177

978-1683316176

Thriller/Suspense

320 Pages

  

After committing a faux pas that cost her her job as a reporter for the Boston Globe, Laura Chambers is back in her hometown of Hillsborough, North Carolina. She fled many years ago, swearing never to return and is now working for The Hillsborough Gazette, the town paper, where her assignments are mundane.

Craving a front-page byline, Laura fights to win the story of two local girls gone missing. She hopes to prove to her boss and her contentious colleague she is the right person for this feature. Olive Hanson's body is discovered in a soybean field, but the other child, Teresa Mitchem, still needs to be found.

Laura knows she's the best journalist for this assignment, which could put her back on top. She meets with FBI Agent Timinski to compare notes, though she must keep his information off the record. Laura also picks the brain of her therapist, Dr. Jasmine DeVane, looking to get insight into a criminal's mind. DeVane is hesitant to talk with Laura because she is a patient, yet Laura promises not to disclose her source.

Back in 1988, ten-year-old Patty Finch ran away and was never found. Soon after, Susan Gilroy and two other girls disappeared. Receiving a tip about these old cases, Laura talks with now-retired Orange County Deputy Donald Rodgers, the head investigator back then. Going through his files and old newspaper archives, Laura gasps over the old headlines upon seeing the photo of Susan Gilroy who shares an uncanny resemblance to Olive Hanson:

Gilroy Girl Search Continues:

The [front page] picture was Olive Hanson rendered in black and white.

Laura double-checked the caption, confirming that this was indeed Susan Gilroy. Looking at the photograph was like looking at a ghost. Corn-silk blond hair. A narrow face ending in a weak chin. Sad eyes. A face that had seen violence and come to accept it, one that expected every adult was two seconds away from lashing out with a slap or a kick. The face of a little girl who had decided to pursue a strategy of blending into the background, hoping never to be noticed. A child who excelled at remaining invisible.

Could this past event somehow be linked to the present? Has the perpetrator, then known as "The Kid," laid in wait for so long or is this a copycat scenario?

More horror plagues Laura when her lover, Officer Frank Stuart, heads to an abandoned cabin in the mountains on a lead. She follows and nearly misses being shot, though Frank is brutally murdered. At a therapy session, Dr. DeVane urges her to talk about her encounter, but she refuses. Her thoughts are:

Some hot part of Laura's brain went cold. It had been happening more and more lately, like flipping a safety switch. The terror and fear and anger and shame would swell in her chest and just when there should have been a climax, an explosion, her insides would turn to ice. She felt like a robot, but that didn't bother her. Anything to be free of herself.

Soon known as the town pariah, Laura is obsessed with locating the last little girl. She finds herself in a perilous situation and all hell breaks loose. This diabolical debut thriller offers more twists than winding country road and is sure to keep the reader on tenterhooks. Past secrets and evil are unlocked bringing home a chilling and unexpected conclusion. J. G. Hetherton is an author to watch. 

After Nightfall

 

By A. J. Banner

Lake Union Publishing

August 7, 2018

10-1503949249

978-1503949249

Thriller/Suspense

256 pages

  

Marissa Parlette, a speech-language pathologist at a local elementary school in Tranquil Cove, Washington, is working with nine-year-old Anna Black who has a stuttering problem. When Anna's dad, Nathan, a paramedic, comes to talk to Anna's class about his work, Marissa meets him for the first time. Chemistry clicks, soon making them inseparable.

For Nathan's 40th birthday Marissa hosts a dinner with Lauren Eklund, a neighbor to Nathan and Marissa's childhood friend and her husband, Jensen as well as Nathan's surgeon brother, Keith, his wife, Hedra, and Anna. Marissa is annoyed who Lauren who outrageously flirts with Nathan. Even having too much to drink is no excuse. Though friends many years ago, Marissa still holds a grudge against Lauren from a transgression in their past.

But the past wouldn't leave me alone. When Lauren moved here, she looked me up, called me. I drove to the hospital to meet her in the cafeteria. Remember when popped over on the foot ferry, and we talked about moving here? she said sliding into a booth across from me. Well, I did. After they built the hospital, I got a job in the ER. She didn't move here to follow me. But she might as well have. 

Wary over Lauren's motive at rekindling their friendship, Marissa dismisses her when Nathan produces a diamond ring along with a proposal. She loves him and Anna unconditionally, so she tunes out Lauren's outrageous actions.

Early the next morning while Marissa walks by the shore, she discovers Lauren's broken body after an apparent fall from above. Shocked, she phones 911, and from there, her world shatters. Did Lauren jump, slip, or was she pushed? Before leaving the night before, Lauren told Marissa she needed to talk to her about Nathan, but Marissa put her off.

Marissa remembers Lauren's fear of heights and realizes she wouldn't venture to the cliff unless she was very drunk or pursued. Crazed thoughts flow through her mind, and a few days later she returns to her own cottage to get some perspective on the situation.

To her shock, her house has been burglarized with the only place ransacked being her bedroom. A bottle of perfume is smashed against the wall, and the dress she planned to wear for her wedding is missing. Who could have done this? Flustered and frightened, she heads to the security of Nathan's home, still puzzling out the facts of Lauren's death.

Marissa cannot find answers, yet tragedy strikes all around her. The detective on Lauren's case suspects Marissa of certain happenings as danger surrounds her. Anna becomes withdrawn, Nathan's ex is testy, and something is going on between Nathan and Hedra. Whom can she trust?

Written in the present tense and in the first person, After Nightfall is a chilling drama. The vast and well-fleshed out characters keep the reader wondering just what is going on. A compelling plot filled with mystery and suspense proves no one really knows what goes on in the mind of others. 

Everything That Follows

 

 

By Meg Little Reilly

MIRA

May 1, 2018

10-0778364143

978-0778364145

Thriller/Suspense

320 pages

  

Martha's Vineyard is the setting for this intriguing thriller. Glass-blower Kat Weber just sold one of her creations, receiving a fortune for it. She and boyfriend Sean Murphy along with their friend Hunter Briggs go to The Undertow, the local watering hole to celebrate. Around midnight Sean leaves for home, and Kat plans to go to her apartment, but drunk and high on life, Hunter invites her to take a quick ride on his boat. Bartender Kyle, new to the area, accompanies them.

Hunter is inebriated and sets anchor not too far from land and soon passes out. A nasty storm ensues causing the vessel to rock and roll. Kyle, also intoxicated, tries to take advantage of Kat and she becomes frightened he is about to rape her. The next few minutes turn into a blur. One minute Kyle is there then he is overboard.

Kat stood there at the back of the boat while all the blood in her head drained to her feet. She stared down into the black water trying to see through the dimpling, rain-battered surface to the spot where Kyle had disappeared so quickly. He'd gone down inexplicably fast. She scanned the chop, expecting to see him surface. But nothing. Not a trace.

Panic-stricken, she pleads for Hunter's help. Shocked, they stare into the water, and as the squall intensifies Hunter cranks the engine and heads back to shore. Kat demands they search for Kyle, but he refuses, stating Kyle has probably swum in.

Hunter, a ne'er do well, is the son of a U.S. Senator up for re-election.Already having too many scrapes with the law, Hunter begs Kat to remain quiet about Kyle's accident, telling her it could end his father's career. Kat believes this is wrong and they should go to the authorities, but she also fears she will be arrested. Did she push him, did he fall from the impact of the wind, or did Hunter go after him aware of what he was attempting to do?

Hunter swears Kat to secrecy yet she cannot get Kyle's last stricken look out of her mind. Sean doesn't understand why she is acting differently, and she will not disclose her secret. She loves his mom, Orla who took her under her wing and taught her everything about glass blowing. Orla, Sean, and his daughter are the only family she knows and loves. How can she hurt them by divulging this incident?

When Kyle's lifeless body washes ashore, Kat demands they go to the police, but Hunter brushes her off. One of father's employees later offers Kat a bribe to keep her mouth shut. How could she live with herself if she accepted this "blood money"?

As Kat's whole world upends before her eyes, she decides she must make restitution for this horrible disaster, even if it means the end of her happy and fulfilled life. Fear cripples her believing she will be held responsible for Kyle's death.

Kat's well-developed character digs deep into her conscience as she grasps with the tragedy of Kyle's passing, wrestling as to how she can make amends. Though the prose is rather drawn out, one can empathize with the thoughts rolling through Kat's mind and her angst at how to deal with the circumstances. Written as suspense, this novel deals with the moral dilemma Kat faces as she desperately tries to right a wrong, which gives the reader food for thought. How would you act in a similar situation?

       The Mars Room

 

By Rachel Kushner

Scribner

May 1, 2018

      10: 1476756554

      978-1476756554

      352 pages

      Thrillers/Suspense

For those who wonder what life is like in prison, this is a novel to read. Rachel Kushner delves into the sordid as she describes Romy Hall's life or lack of it.

Raised by a ne’er do well mother and an unknown father, Romy grows up on the San Francisco streets unruly and belligerent. As a teen, she gets into drugs and booze and connects with low-class citizens. Never having any discipline or structure in her life, Romy is a wild child. While still young, she gives birth to Jackson and drifts from one seedy apartment to another while supporting herself (and her habits) working as a stripper at the Mars Room.

It is at the Mars Room where Kurt Kennedy becomes obsessed with Romy and makes it his mission to follow her everywhere she goes to make sure she is safe. Romy, fearful of his stalking, decides to move away and to be closer to Jimmy Darling, a friend she feels comfortable with.

In truth, I moved me and Jackson to Los Angeles not only to get away from Kurt Kennedy but so that I could be with Jimmy Darling after he got the teaching job in Valencia. The property he sublet belonged to an eccentric old painter who was away in Japan . . .

"We would spend the night but always left first thing in the morning and made the long drive back to my own borrowed place, my so-called reality. I didn't want to live with Jimmy. He was not the sort of person you move in with, make a life with. He did his thing and I did mine, and every few days we got together and entertained each other but kept it light.

Romy befriends others who are no better than she, and soon they all fall down the rabbit hole to degradation.

Kennedy shows up in Los Angeles, again to stalk her and, surprised by his appearance, Romy murders him, believing her life is in danger. Without money for competent legal counsel, she receives the harshest penalty ending up with two life sentences at Stanville Women's Correctional Facility in the central valley of California.

Romy finds life in prison anything but appealing as she associates with other convicts who share their pathetic stories of how they ended up there. A heartrending and depressing tale of how one's life can go astray, The Mars Room delves deep into the criminal psyche as well as the workings of the judicial system and the tragic actuality of incarceration.

The basis of this book is chilling and insightful, yet it is written in a disorganized manner. The reader is given insight into the protagonist's mind, though other characters are intertwined into this, some whom have questionable connections to her—and exactly what part they play in the whole scenario is unclear.

Though The Mars Room is basically where Romy's life went off course, the title does not seem fitting for the context of the book. With the nitty-gritty and deprivation that can impact fellow humans and the consequences they face due to this, not much is left to the imagination. Despite this, inconsequential meanderings included, this read is powerful and moving.

Mornings on Main

HQN

April 10, 2018

10: 1335062955

978-10335062956

Women's Fiction

320 pages

 Jefferson James raised his daughter Jillian when her mother took off after her birth. Throughout Jillian's life, she learned nothing about her mom, and her dad was close-mouthed about his past. The two lived like nomads, moving often. Jillian could never make friends for she did not stay in one place long enough. 

Jefferson left when Jillian entered college and now she, too, lives a nomadic existence. Her father's words resonate through her mind: 

If you want to see the world, Jillie, you've got to rip off the rearview mirror and never look back.

Travel light. Pack nothing from the past, not even memories. 

Never stay at a cheap motel. It marks you as a drifter.

Never give up too much information. It'll trip up. 

Always keep count or you might lose track of how long you stay and forget to leave.

Jillian manages to collect enough money to go to Oklahoma City. Jefferson worked in the library's basement when she was young, and showed her a niche for them to hide things. She had stashed cash, her ID, and a letter in case her father searched for her. Seeing nothing was touched proves her father wasn't looking for her.

Among Jillian's meager childhood possessions, she confiscated some old logs in which her dad listed their journeys. One page held a zip code that piqued her curiosity and brought her to Laurel Springs, Texas. Maybe someone would remember him?

Jillian is determined to find out something about Jefferson then continue on her way. After all, this has been her life. She settles into a B & B and decides to get a job, applying to an ad posted at the local newspaper office. She meets Connor Larady, an introspective man a few years older than she, who happens to be the mayor as well as the editor. 

Surprisingly, the position is not with the paper, but Connor needs someone to keep an eye on Eugenia, his aged grandmother who owns A Stitch in Time, the quilting shop across for Connor's office. Eugenia is suffering from Alzheimer's, and Connor realizes she will not be able to maintain the business much longer. He hires Jillian to inventory and catalog the quilts which will be donated to a museum.

Jillian becomes entranced with the store as shown in the descriptive license the author took with this paragraph that makes the reader truly visualize the scenery:

Jillian closed her eyes for a moment and took in a deep breath. She loved the smells of the quilt shop. Lavender soap left on the women's skin as they routinely washed their hands so no perspiration stained the quilt. Lemon wax on the eighty-year-old counter that had been left behind when a mercantile became the quilt shop. The smell of cotton, fresh and new, blended with the hint of dyes pressed into material. She even liked the scent of the oil on the hundred-year-old Singer Featherweight machines lining the back wall. Soldiers waiting to do their duty.

Eugenia's warmth envelopes Jillian, and before long she feels part of this quaint town. The other quilters include her in their conversations, and Connor, though somewhat standoffish understands Jillian will only stay until her work is done. She gets immersed in the historical tales of each quilt, and for the first time in her life, she is sad about leaving.

As Connor opens up, Jillian experiences an attraction she cannot deny. Connor's surly and withdrawn teenage daughter, Sunnie, warms up, and Jillian finds herself surrounded by a camaraderie she's never had. 

A sweet and gentle tale of finding love and oneself, Mornings on Main delves into the emptiness of being alone, the heartache of Alzheimer's disease, and coming of age. Some questions remain unanswered: Why would Jillian try to find a father who does not seem to want her? and Why would she insist on living a lifestyle without love or trust? Though the conclusion is satisfying, it appears to end too abruptly, having one wonder if this could be the first novel of a series. 
 

Relative Strangers

 

By Paula Garner

Candlewick

April 10, 2018

10:076369469X

978:0763694692

368 pages

Contemporary Young Adult

 

Jules Davis, a high school senior, loves her two best friends but envies them, too. Gab lives in a huge house with two adoring parents and a brother; and Leila, though not as wealthy as Gab, shares a loving family. Jules is stuck with a standoffish mom who is more interested in painting than her daughter.

On the yearbook committee, Jules needs a photograph of her as a baby to accompany her graduation photo. He mother keeps putting her off, so one day she digs into her mom's closet finding a box containing pictures of her as an infant with more after she was about two. She also discovers is a photo of a man holding her just after birth. A man she has never seen before.

Seeing these sets off something in Jules. She wants to find out not only who the guy is but why there are no pictures from infancy until she is a toddler. Her mother is uncommunicative and never divulges information about her past, but Jules needs answers.

She is furious to learn she was placed in a foster home during that gap in time, while her mother was in rehab to gain sobriety. Why hasn't she been told this? Among her mother's belongings is a paper naming the family she lived with for 18 months. Jules, determined to find them does a computer search with the help of Leila and Gab and locate Luke Margolis, her "big brother."

Jules and Luke correspond, and when they meet she is swept away by him. Luke is perfect; he's not only handsome, but he is kind, compassionate, and thrilled to connect with her again. They go to Jules's favorite cafe' for coffee where her friend Eli always slips her a favored chocolate croissant.

Luke tells her: "I'm so glad you found me," he said. "I always wanted to look for you, but my mom wouldn't let me. She was worried it would disrupt your life, and maybe you didn't even know you were in foster care."

The next step is meeting her foster parents who instantly envelop her with a love she never received from her mother. Her thoughts become confused. How could her mom take her away from this family who so clearly cherished her? What would her life be like if she had been adopted by them? But running through these other versions of reality also meant thinking about the impact of this reality —not knowing my own mother. Not having Gab or Leila or Eli. Not knowing a china pattern from a Chinet plate.

Would I have felt in the other reality as I do in this one? Like someone who didn't quite belong, someone who always wished for something different? Maybe I would have  obsessed about my real mother and the life I'd missed? That sounded about right if I was honest. Maybe I was just a chronic malcontent. Nothing was  ever enough.

Paula Garner gets to the heart of teenage angst, and not the usual emotions shared by most teens. Imagine realizing secrets withheld about a part of your life which you cannot remember? Living a life feeling you are an accident and don't really fit in?

Written with modern-day young-adult vernacular as well as common scenarios of today's youth creates an authentic novel. The characters are substantial making it  easy for the reader to relate and empathize with the situations of all involved. Heartbreaking at times, Relative Strangers is a well developed coming-of-age tale offering a favorable conclusion with food for thought.

I've Got My Eyes on You

 

 

By Mary Higgins Clark

Simon & Schuster

April 3, 2018

10:1501171682

978-1501171680

Mystery

256 pages

 

How can someone of limited intellectual ability understand the reality of seeing one you care about being hurt? Twenty-year-old Jamie Chapman watches out his second-floor bedroom window one Saturday night while his next-door neighbor and friend, Kerry Dowling hosts a pool party. Kerry usually invites him to swim with her, and he feels sad to not have been invited this time but understands Kerry and her friends are having their last celebration before heading off to college.

Jamie's oxygen had been cut off when he was born, limiting his aptitude, though Kerry never makes him feel different. She always treats him with respect and kindness. After the partygoers leave, Jamie decides to help Kerry clean up. As he enters her backyard, he sees a guy walk out from the woods. The man picks up a nearby golf club, hits Kerry over the head, and pushes her into the pool. He leaves quickly and Jamie calls out to Kerry, believing she is swimming. She doesn't respond, so as he wades in the pool he realizes he is wearing new sneakers. Knowing his mom would be angry, he goes home and hides his wet clothing.

The next morning Jamie hears that Kerry is dead. Jamie's mom, Marge discovers his damp clothes, and when she asks why they are wet, he mentions what he witnessed the night before. When he says, "A 'big guy' hit Kerry," she panics for Jamie's deceased dad always called him "big guy."

Deciding to pick up Jamie from work that afternoon, Marge prays in the parking lot of the market where Jamie is a bagger: "'Dear merciful Blessed Mother, please help the Dowlings find a way to cope with their tragedy. And please, don't let it be that Jamie had something to do with it. Jack, if only you were here to help us. He needs you.' It was a prayer she had made to her husband for the five years since he had his fatal heart attack."

"Dear God. You know he would never hurt anyone. But if he thought he was just playing, and he's so strong—please—"

Marge worries her sweet, childlike son will be charged with Kerry's death. Detective Mike Wilson takes the case and questions neighbors and several kids who attended the party. He learns about a fight between Alan and Kerry, making Alan the lead suspect. Marge sighs with relief upon hearing of Alan's arrest and assumption he is the killer. But guilt tears at her remembering Jamie's tale of the "big guy!"

Meanwhile, Kerry's sister, Aline is starting a new job at the high school as a counselor. She confers with Detective Wilson who asks if she will question Kerry's friends that are still students there. With her parents being inconsolable—especially her mother, who insists Alan has murdered her baby—Aline's gut instincts differ, and she wants to help find the true perpetrator.

Alan's arrest torments Marge, for the information Jamie told her means he is innocent. Is it fair he should be charged when Jamie can prove he's not the killer? But if she tells of Jamie's witness to the crime, will they accuse him due to his disability with the supposition he did not know what he may have done?

This fast-paced and simplistic tale is a quick and easy read. The insight into Jamie's immature mind is endearing and poignant. The distress Alan and his family endure is all too believable and heartrending, especially in light of his involvement and love for Kerry.

Though the plot contains suspense, and each character is well defined, there are subplots highlighting Aline's part in the story, adding touches of romance to counteract the sadness of a death.

There is a lot of inner dialogue, which is superfluous and slows down the movement, however, the information regarding investigative work, the duties of guidance counselors, and the effects of birth defects add to the drama to make this novel work.

All We Knew

 

By Jamie Beck

Montlake Romance

January 30, 2018

10:1542049032

978:11542049030

Contemporary Women's Fiction

336 pages


Many women's biggest desire is to have children, and Sara Cabot is not exempt. Married to Hunter, a highly successful CFO of the family international tea corporation, Sara is blessed with everything money can buy. She lives in a large, beautifully decorated home and is adored by Hunter. Yet having endured grueling hormone shots and in-vitro-fertilization, she is unable to conceive.

In addition to Sara's grief at not bearing a much-wanted baby, she feels her marriage is falling apart. Like most men, Hunter does not share his emotions, making Sara wonder if he really does want a child. He spends all his time at work, and the company consumes his every thought.

Hunter's father promised him the business upon his retirement, but his step-mother, Jenna, is pushing to sell. The offer they receive would allow the whole family to live in luxury until the end of time, but Hunter loves his heritage and is distraught  and angry his father would take this from him. Hostility escalates as Jenna and Hunter spar back and forth over who will win control.

As Hunter spends his energy engrossed in saving his legacy, Sara's disillusionment and loneliness mounts. She volunteers at a women's shelter where she falls in love with Ty, a toddler the son of a drug addict. Hunter warns her about getting attached knowing she'll lose contact when the boy's mother gets back on her feet.

While Sara mourns over the children she'll never have, Hunter's focus is on his career. It is understandable he'd want to save everything he's worked for most of his life, but his callousness toward Sara doesn't bide well, causing her to question her vows, especially with believing Hunter's assistant, Bethany is setting her sights on him as told by her unexpected visit to Hunter's office:

. . . once again seeing a hint of Bethany's interest in her husband. Did Hunter notice? Did he care? She didn't think so, but how many wives had been duped by husbands who had affairs at the office? Might Bethany eventually capture his interest? She's seen it happen to friends, and with Hunter's own dad, more or less.

Of course, Hunter cannot understand his wife's feelings and withdraws. Sara's system, flooded with hormones, makes her suspicious of Hunter's love for her. Though Hunter says he wants a family, he is obsessed with Cabot Tea, and discord happens not only between him and Sara but also his father and Jenna, whom he dislikes and believes thinks only of herself.

When Hunter's dad becomes ill, tensions flair; and in addition to this his younger unmarried step-sister, Gentry admits to being pregnant. Hunter wonders if this will push Sara over the edge. They are now in a relationship akin to two trains leaving the station going in opposite directions.

The various players in this tale supply their separate justifications for their actions, adding dimension to this novel. It is easy to empathize with both Sara and Hunter as well as his father and Gentry, yet it is clear there is no actual communication between them. Each knows what they want and is stuck in that groove, finding it hard to accept the other's point of view.

All We Knew encompasses the topics of infertility, homelessness due to drug addiction, and adoption. Heart wrenching and emotional, the book delves into many scenarios offering well fleshed-out characters trying to solve problems common in today's society.

If I Die Tonight

 

 

by Alison Gaylin

William Morrow Paperbacks

March 6, 2018

10:0062641107

978:0062641106

Mystery/Suspense

384 pages

 

Divorced mom, Jackie Reed worries about her oldest son, Wade. His actions have become questionable, but is it teenage angst, or is something really bothering the seventeen-year-old?

One rainy night, Jackie awakens to a noise other than the pouring rain outside. She investigates and she sees Wade out on the doorstep smoking. She promised herself she would never be the type of mom to snoop into her kids' personal lives, so she sighs and returns to bed.

An accident occurs that night in the small upstate New York town of Havenkill where the Reeds live. An aging rock star claims she was carjacked and the driver who snatched her vehicle ran over local, popular high school student, Liam Miller. She allegedly was returning from a gig when this young boy dressed all in black, wearing a hoodie to cover his face, made her stop then pushed her out of her Jaguar. Shaken and noticeably upset, this musician, known as Aimee En, is more concerned with her precious 1973 Jag than the fate of the boy who was hit and later perished.

The following morning Jackie finds Wade's damp clothes in the dryer. Wade never does any domestic chores, so why would he put his clothes in the dryer? Her confusion is shown here:

She [Jackie] put the wet laundry on the folding table and pulled it all out... Black hoodie. Black T-Shirt. A part of dark jeans with one of the pockets ripped off. The same clothes Wade had been wearing the night before last when she'd seen him on the front step.

"Why had he run them through the dryer?

...when she returned to the kitchen, she saw Connor, sitting at the kitchen table, staring into his hands, into his phone screen. ''Any idea why your brother...'' She stopped. Connor was looking up at her, phone still clutched in front of him. His jaw was tight, his lower lip trembling so slightly, she doubted anyone other than a mother would notice. ''Liam?'' she said.

He nodded. Jackie went to him. He didn't start crying until she took him in her arms.

Before long, this tragedy runs rampant over social media with everyone speculating on who the carjacker could be. Aimee En's description of the guy vaguely matches that of Wade Reed who is more or less an outcast and loner.

Jackie and younger son, Connor cannot fathom Wade would commit a crime and they fully support him until Wade's temperament and circumstantial evidence, point to him being guilty.

The first on the case is Pearl Maze, a young police officer. With speculation that Aimee En is responsible due to her drunken past, Pearl feels the woman is innocent and hopes to prove it. Maze with a dark history herself isn't the best one to make assumptions. The FBI takes over as the small-town authorities aren't equipped for crimes this serious, yet Maze does not trust these officials.

This insightful thriller commences with Reed posting his suicide on his mother's Facebook page. Well-fleshed-out characters each share their own separate agendas and back stories. Many viewpoints express their stance on the matter of Liam's death along with a troubled young man who is thwarted by hurtful social media that convicts without all the facts. A true taste of how humanity has become.

Now That You Mention It

 

By Kristan Higgins

HQN

December 26, 2017

10-1335903356

978-1335903358

416 pages

Contemporary Women's Fiction


Many teenagers deal with bullying and count the days until they can put high school behind them. Nora Stuart cannot wait to get away from her home in Scutter Island, Maine. As a preteen, she is happy and carefree enjoying her younger sister Lily and the times they share with their dad. When she is 12, their father leaves, never to return. Nora's life changes drastically. Her stoic and elusive mother offers no love or praise, and Nora and Lily drift apart with Nora overeating to soothe her pain.


She describes her teen years as such: So I had homework, I had my secret food (which wasn't that much of a secret really.) And then came puberty. Overnight, it seemed, the plagues of Egypt visited my body. I went from a chubby adolescent to someone with breasts and a beer belly, thick thighs that chafed, a butt that was both wide AND flat. The hair on my legs was a thick as on my head. I had to shave my armpits daily, or the stubble would prick my skin. I had a 'stache. I had bacne. I got plantar's warts on my knuckles. 

There was no indignity too great. My first period—white pants. My
second period left a puddle in my chair in math class. During that  special time of the month, I would sweat like I'd just finished the Boston Marathon  during a heat wave. I had inexplicable halitosis, despite flossing and brushing three times a day. A new clumsiness happened upon me when I grew boobs, throwing me off balance, causing me to trip and stumble more than anyone else in the world, it seemed.

Written in the first-person, Now That You Mention That highlights Nora's shame and heartache. Higgins writes as though she is there with the reader retelling her anguishing adolescence. Empathy and also a little of "I know exactly how she feels" runs rampant throughout, and you cannot help but cheer on Nora  as she struggles to carve out a resourceful life for herself, one where she is fulfilled and not ostracized.

With no friends in high school, Nora buries herself in her lessons. Whenever she must speak in class, she becomes nervous, perspires profusely, breaks out in pimples, and is called "Troll" by her peers. She crushes on Luke Fletcher, but everyone loves him. 

Schoolwork comes first and often, Nora studies with Sullivan, Luke's twin brother, who treats her like an equal and not an outcast. In their senior year, a billionaire property owner awards a full-paid scholarship to Tufts University in Boston. Nora, knowing her mom could never afford to send her to college, toils diligently to win this prize. 

The problem is her competition is Luke, the hometown hero. Surprising  everyone, Nora is the winner, and when it is announced, Luke and his passel of friends are determined to make Nora pay. However, that night Luke takes Sully off the island, and Luke gets drunk and high on cocaine. He insists on driving and an accident ensues with Sully  suffering brain damage. Because Nora has enough credits to graduate, she starts at Tufts right away. Treated like the town pariah, she can't wait to get away.

Boston transforms Nora for she works hard, is admitted into med school, and completely redefines herself by losing weight and gaining confidence. Hired at a prestigious Boston Gastroenterology office, she also is employed at the busy Boston City Hospital where she meets and falls in love with Dr. Bobby Byrne. Life could not be better. 

Then an incident she terms the "Big Bad Event" or BBE happens, which is alluded to many times in the novel until disclosed about halfway through. Since this trauma, her relationship with Bobby wanes. 

After a heroic save in the ER, where Bobby rules as "king," the staff celebrates. Nora heads out for pizza and is hit by a van, sustaining severe injuries. When  ambulatory, Nora takes a leave of absence and goes home, the place she deserted many years before. 

Some of the townsfolk still blame her for winning the scholarship that causes Luke's downfall. Her cool and aloof mother isn't happy she is back, and she now must contend with her surly 15-year-old niece, Poe, whose mom, Lily is incarcerated in Seattle. Though strange to be back, Nora needs closure as well as healing for both her physical and emotional wounds. 

Now That You Mention It is a poignant journey into a young woman's right of passage to become confident and accepting of herself. Along the way she learns of secrets withheld that thwarted her childhood. Highly engaging and down to earth, this tale is often humorous as well as heartrending, yet leads the protagonist and those close to her to a fulfilling and favorable conclusion.

Left to Chance

 

By Amy Sue Nathan

 St. Martin's Griffin

November 21, 2017
10: 125009111X
978-1250091116
288 pages
Contemporary Women's Fiction


They say you can never go home again, and after being away for a long period of time, it can be frightening to go back. This is what Teddi Lerner is facing. Born and raised in the small town of Chance, Ohio, Teddi departed without a goodbye after the death of her best friend, Celia. 

Teddi and Celia were like two peas in a pod since childhood. Closer than sisters, they shared an unbreakable bond. A third to join their group was Miles, who later became Celia's husband and father to daughter Shayna. Tragedy struck when Celia became ill and passed away. Her dying request to Teddi was for her to leave town and fulfill her dream of being a photographer. 

Unable to bear the passing of her friend and alone for the first time in her life, Teddi vanishes without notice during Celia's funeral. But she remains in touch with Shay, who calls her "Aunt Tee." They email each other and do Facetime, and Shayna sometimes visits Teddi in Chicago for girl time.

Now, six years after Celia's passing, Shayna pleads with Teddi to return to Ohio to take pictures of her dad's upcoming nuptials. Against her better judgment, Teddi acquiesces only because she loves the now 12 year old. 

In the time she's been away, Teddi becomes a well-known event photographer handling weddings and other festivities of celebrities taking place at her boss's various luxury hotels around the country. With her whirlwind career, she doesn't lay claim to a place of her own, always staying at one of the resorts. 

With trepidation, Teddi returns at Shayna's bidding, feeling uncomfortable. She cannot fathom that Miles has gotten over Celia and is remarrying. Shayna welcomes Teddi with open arms, though Miles is somewhat aloof. She knows he does not forgive her for departing so abruptly, but how can she explain her flight was due to her overwhelming sorrow? 

Teddi meets old friends and becomes a topic of conversation, which she abhors. Miles won't talk, and Beck, Celia's brother with whom Teddi once had a relationship, lets her know she is not wanted. She realizes something is amiss with both Shayna and Beck, though they won't confide in her, which breaks her heart. 

Though there to do a job, Teddi determines she will find out what is wrong with with Shayna as well as apologize to Beck. His anger toward her hits her like a slap in the face with the following:

"I'm Miles’ best man.''

"Wow, I had no idea.'' The best man, who will be in all the wedding photos. My throat burned and my eyes stung as pressure built.

"Of course you didn't. How could you? Miles and Shay are still my family. And Violet's great.''

So I'd heard. So I'd seen.

"It's not too hard for you? It's none of my business—"

"You're damn right it's none of your business."

I jerked back.

"Don't look so surprised. You went away. Disappeared. The rest of us stayed and helped each other through everything. If anything, it made us all closer." 

As Teddi grapples with intense guilt, grief, and rejection, she learns the truth about how her leaving impacted those who mattered to her. Though she made a mistake, she followed her best friend's wishes, and now she must make amends.

Written in the first person, Left to Chance has Teddi dig deep inside to deal with her feelings and loss and to come to terms with what she wants for her future. Offering insight into the emotions of love and sorrow, Teddi finds reasons to revamp her life and stop running away from it.

Every Breath You Take

By Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke

 

Simon & Schuster
November 7, 2017
10-150117164X
978-1501171642
304 pages
Thriller/Suspense

In book four of the Under Suspicion series, Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke take the reader on another gripping journey with Laurie Moran, star of the reality TV show Under Suspicion. She and her investigative team search for answers to a murder that happened three years prior at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Gala Celebration. Socialite Virginia Wakeling, a member of the board of trustees is discovered dead in the snow after a fall from the museum's rooftop. In the years since her death, no one has been charged and speculation abounds as to if the elderly woman was pushed or if she took her own life.

 

Virginia, dating Ivan Gray, a man more than 20 years her senior, and to whom she  fronted funds to establish his now successful gym, PUNCH, as well as presenting  him with a Porsche, have Virginia's daughter, Anna and her son, Carter, as well as Anna's husband, Peter Browning believing Ivan to be the killer. They hypothesize no one else could have been responsible but him, claiming that though Ivan insisted he and Virginia were to be married, they believed Virginia came to her senses and was ready to turn Ivan loose. After all, why would he be interested in a much-older woman if not for her fortune?  

Laurie worries about delving into this case, though cold cases are the crux of her program. She is unhappy that her new legal host, Ryan Nichols, whom she believes to be aloof and arrogant, is who pushed this idea through to her boss. She is still mourning her breakup with the former host, Alex Buckley, but has no choice but to proceed. In addition to Ryan being in tight with the studio management, he also is friends with the personal trainer, determined to prove his innocence.

Interviews are arranged with Wakeling family members including Virginia's nephew, Tom. Patriarch Bob Wakeling and his brother started their real estate enterprise many years ago but had a falling out and Bob bought out his brother's interest. Virginia had no love lost for Tom, believing him to be a ne'er do well who was a gambler and womanizer. Yet after her death, Anna, Peter, and Carter took him under their wing and into the business where he appears to have matured.

The investigation intensifies:

Laurie felt like a coach in the locker room as she stood at the whiteboard in her office, marker in hand, while Ryan, Jerry, and Grace were gathered at the conference table in front of her.

As always, we go on with open minds, but we've got two leading suspects: Ivan Gray and Carter Wakeling. She circled both names on the board. Jerry had done phenomenal work over the past five days. They had a complete production schedule already nailed down. This team meeting was to go over final details and make sure Ryan was prepared for interviews.

The case against Ivan is essentially the same information that led police to suspect him in the first place.'' Ryan's Harvard-trained legal mind was evident as he quickly listed the details: the age difference between him and Virginia, his financial motivation to seek a relationship with her, and, most important, the absence of any corroboration that Virginia had known about the half million dollars transferred from her accounts into Ivan's gym. But even though Ryan had clearly mastered the facts, Laurie could tell from his dismissive tone that he was not taking the evidence against his personal trainer seriously. She decided to keep her thoughts to herself for the time being. 

Several colorful characters are introduced including Laurie's original teammates, Jerry and Grace. Their distinct personalities blend and contrast to make the tension between them more powerful. We are privy to the lives of the rich and famous only to discover they have skeletons in their closest the same as ordinary folks. The suspense builds up until the somewhat surprising conclusion.  

Dead of Winter

 

By Wendy Corsi Staub

Crooked Lane Books

November 7, 2017

10-16833133X  

978-1683313335

Thriller Suspense/Mystery

288 pages

 

With the impactful opening of: "Bella Jordan squints and takes aim. Just as she presses the trigger, a voice bellows, 'Mom!'" readers are quickly drawn in. 

Bella and her six-year-old son Max find themselves in Lily Dale, a summer cottage colony in rural New York. The area, mainly dormant between Labor Day and Columbus Day and deserted for six months due to blizzards across the Great Lakes, is a well-known spiritualist community populated by psychic mediums. 

By coincidence Bella and Max settle here. They had been on their way to Chicago to stay with Bella's deceased husband's mother. On a stop, they discover a pregnant tabby and bring her to a nearby animal hospital where she meets Dr. Drew Bailey. A microchip discloses she is Chance the Cat, belonging to Valley View Manor's innkeeper, Leona Gatto, a woman who was recently murdered. Bad weather and car trouble forces them to remain. Is this a twist of fate? 

The owner of the inn decides to renovate and hires Bella as the new manager, offering them a home.  

One evening while Bella is in the kitchen, she notices a glint of light outside the window in the middle of Cassadaga Lake. Concerned, because of the frigid cold and lack of boaters, she believes it may be a night fisherman, but her curiosity is piqued when she hears the sound of a gunshot and a scream. The following morning she discovers a tarp on the shore which happens to contain a dead body. Bella contacts the police, learning the victim was part of a crime syndicate that allegedly transports stolen property from Canada into New York.

Max befriends Jiffy, who lives a few doors down. The boys decide they're too old to be met at the bus stop, but that doesn't stop Bella. Jiffy's mom Misty is a little too lax when it comes to her son which is a concern to Bella, and with a killer on the loose, Bella takes no chances.

A snowstorm is predicted, and Max is showing the symptoms of a bad cold, so Bella keeps him home. Bella's neighbor, Calla, shows up bearing treatment for Max:

"I'm here to . . . deliver this to Max, from Gammy.'' She holds up a mason jar wrapped in a dish towel. 'It's still hot."

"What is it?"

"Lime and ginger pho soup. She said to tell you it would have been better if her Crock-Pot was working, but she did the best she could on the stove. Oh, and she says it's the best cold remedy, and she hopes he feels better soon."

"How does she know he's sick?"

''You didn't tell her?"

"I don't think so."

Calla shrugs, handing over the jar of soup. "It's Lily Dale."

"Ah, yes, Lily Dale—not merely a typical small town where everyone knows everyone else's business, but an atypical small town whose psychic residents seem to know . . . well, everything. Maybe that's why Bella seems to be the only one around here with a nagging concern over the body in the lake."


Due to the storm, school is dismissed early, but Jiffy doesn't return home. 

Though the murderer hasn't been apprehended, no one appears frightened. Then a second body is found—that of a neighbor—so the clairvoyants try to find clues as to Jiffy's disappearance as well as the identity of the killer. 

Dead of Winter is written in the present tense which adds tension to the story. Several scenarios are played out presenting differing subplots, making this a fast-paced and suspenseful thriller. This is the third installment of the Lily Dale series, blending sleuthing, the paranormal, and a touch of romance to produce a spectacular whodunit.  

All the Secret Places

 

 

By Anna Carlisle

Crooked Lane Books

September 12, 2017

10-168331287

978-1683312871

304 Pages

Mystery/Suspense

  

In this second installment of the Gin Sullivan Mystery series, Gin is on a leave of absence from her medical examiner's position in Chicago. She is back in her hometown of Trumbull, PA, where she helped solve the death of her younger sister. 

She reunites with her high school love, Jake Crosby, who has had a tough life having gotten into trouble when young, but now he is trying to redeem himself by constructing upscale residences on acreage he purchased in an estate sale. One of the luxurious homes is about completed; Jake’s hoping his financial worries will cease, but things go awry when he gets an early-morning phone call stating the house is engulfed in flames. 

Jake hurries to the scene, frustrated and angry. Did someone set this fire on purpose? If so, why? Is this the work of the disgruntled son who did not inherit this parcel of land after his mother's death? Thinking things couldn't get worse Jake learns they also have discovered the remains of a dead body on the property. 

Because the corpse appears to have been buried a long time due to decomposition, they assume this may be a victim of the Civil War. If this is the situation, Jake's whole project would be shut down and the area declared a historical site. 

While Jake frets over his future and a possible arrest, Gin works as a consultant for the local medical examiner, which can appear to be a conflict of interest, considering what happened on Jake's property. 

Detective Stillman assigned to the case is rude to both Jake and Gin, especially because he is out for Jake. He rubs Gin the wrong way, definitely not thrilled dealing with a woman "sticking her nose in his business!" 

The two live together in Jake's home, yet the closeness they once shared is strained. Jake keeps things close to the vest and will not confide in Gin, and he somewhat resents Gin for coming from a well-to-do family, where he struggles for every cent. But Gin persists to clear Jake, which doesn't sit well with him and causes them friction as shown here: 

"I'm trying to help you!" Gin protested. Meanwhile, I find out you've been talking to a bankruptcy lawyer without even discussing it with me first!" 

A blank expression settled onto Jake's face. "I hate to break it to you, but this is just the way it goes for regular folks. Sometimes you can't buy your way out of your problems. . . ." 

. . . Gin stood rooted in place for a few moments, fuming. He was determined to go it alone, which meant that she could either accept the cold, empty silence between them for however long it took Jake to snap out of his funk--or she could leave. There was a third option—the most difficult, the one that would require the most of her. 

She could keep trying to convince him to let her in But until Jake saw a way out of his current problems, there was no way he would be receptive. Which meant that their relationship was riding on the investigation. 


This fast-paced whodunit which easily stands by itself offering several subplots as well as offering up both Gin's and Jake's personal angst for examination. Mysteries, as well as dangerous situations, abound, piquing curiosity up to the unanticipated conclusion.

Lies She Told

 

By Cate Holahan

Crooked Lane Books

10: 1683312953

978-1683312956

September 12, 2017

288 pages

Thriller/Suspense

 

Fiction writers exist in their imagination as they search for ideas to put into a novel. Liza Cole, with one bestseller to her credit, is frustrated with her editor. He is giving her a month's deadline to come up with another thriller. 

With so much happening in Liza's life it is hard for her to concentrate. She desperately longs for a baby and is undergoing brutal hormone therapy, which gives her weird side effects along with the usual ones faced during the first trimester of pregnancy. In addition, her husband David is agitated because his best friend and law partner Nick is missing, and he seems uninterested in her life. 

Facing the many pressures around her, Liza commences her writing where her protagonist, Beth, suspects her spouse Jake of cheating on her. While Beth is home alone with her newborn daughter for long hours, she is furious Jake is never there, with claims he is tied up at work. When she confronts him, he insists she see a therapist stating she is dealing with postpartum depression, casting aside all doubts that he is up to no good. However, Beth decides to follow him to confirm her belief of his infidelity.

As Liza plunges deeper into her writing, scenes parallel her own life to the point where it becomes uncanny. Beth learns Jake is indeed having an affair with a policewoman named Colleen. Once her suspicions are confirmed, she sneaks over to Colleen's apartment to confront her. Without quite being conscious of her actions, Beth bludgeons the woman to death then dumps her body into the East River.

As her tale progresses, Nick's body is discovered floating in the East River; a situation very similar to Liza's work-in-progress. David, who recently became standoffish toward Liza, is arrested for killing Nick. But what would be his motive for killing his best friend? 

To Liza's shock, she finds David at home reading her unfinished manuscript. He accosts her as follows: "You expect me to believe this is a coincidence?" His index finger jabs at the monitor.

I recognize the structure of the paragraphs. Sentence-filled scenes followed by short bits of spaced dialogue. This is my book. David must have searched through my email and found my manuscript. He has my passwords. He knows I send myself copies. But why would he care about my novel?

The realization hits me like a gut punch. He's read my story and convinced himself that it's a retelling of my crime.

"'t's a story," I plead. "'t's only a story."

In essence Lies She Told is a compilation of two novels: one of the author's alleged life, and the other of her imagination. Yet it is remarkable how the two are comparable. The author penning the novel having her circumstances juxtapose with that of her fiction piece allows for an eerie and chilling read. Holahan manages to combine both tales in a way that may appear confusing at first, but the plot twists keeping the reader captivated. 

The differing characters, though alike, are well fleshed out individuals. Emotions of grief, incredulity, and anger are well combined to make this story feel authentic with the secrets revealed raising many questions. The unexpected and explosive conclusion is sure to surprise.

The Fifth of July

 

By Kelly Simmons

Sourcebooks Landmark

August 29, 2017

10-1492651796

978-1492651796

288 Pages

Contemporary Women's Fiction

 

The Warner family has owned a summer house on Nantucket for more than three decades. Alice and Tripp, parents to Tom and Caroline, always spend their vacation there, especially to enjoy the Fourth of July festivities.

This year Alice summons Tom and Caroline, her husband John, and preteen daughter Sydney to the island. Tripp, having undergone cancer chemotherapy, is acting strangely, and Alice needs them all together to access and watch out for him.

The dysfunctional relationship starts with Alice, the snotty and pretentious matriarch who will not tolerate change. She is stressed out by Tripp's behavior since his treatment for he shows no inhibitions and observes no boundaries. Unable to handle his new personality, she decides he would fare better in a facility.

Uptight and controlling Caroline is extremely hard on Sydney. At an age where Sidney wants to spread her wings, Caroline keeps a keen eye on her, refusing to be out of her sight. John is a Casper milquetoast who goes along with whatever his wife says, realizing he has no say, even if he feels Sydney is being browbeaten; Caroline's past offers reasons for being strict.

Tom Warner is laid back, recognizing he's disappointed his mother by not becoming a professional man. He owns a service-based business selling wine to wealthy connoisseurs around the world, and the family scoffs at his profession equating it to a lifeguard or golf pro. But Tom takes it in stride, believing he is the blame for all and any mishaps. He accepts he and his sister cannot get along though she always blamed him for her unfortunate past and also believes he was the favored sibling.

Sydney suffers from the turmoil the most. Her mother tries to keep her close and Tripp entices her into his grandiose schemes, pulling her in two directions. She understands the difference between right and wrong, though the temptation to step outside of her mother's comfort zone is appealing.

Trouble begins when a neighbor commences a lawsuit against the Warners to remove their widow's walk, stating it takes away from his view. He and Alice become involved in a bitter tug-of-war that turns nasty. One incident makes the Walkers leave their home and rent a cottage until the defacement of their property can be eradicated.

Tragedy strikes and Tripp perishes, having Tom heading to his father's favorite spot to reminisce:

"My father loved Altar Rock because other people overlooked it, drove right past. Let the tourists stay on the edges, burrow in the sand. We are up and away from the others, so we can see, so we could know. Maybe so we can learn. And find a way home to how we all used to be. My father and mother, in love once. My sister and I getting along just fine. The neighbors taking care of one another in their own way. Pooling their resources, their gin and their clams and their boats and their bicycles. Not fighting over the ocean, over what everyone knew wasn't theirs.

"I don't know precisely what my father was looking for as he starting his climb that spring and summer. All those stairs, over and over. Maybe he simply knew what was happening, what was coming. That he wasn't well. That there was something else wrong with him and his wife was going to have to lock him up, or in, or down. That his granddaughter was not going to follow him wherever he went, that he would not be granted a second chance.

"So he just kept trying, kept seeking higher ground. Until it gave way. Or maybe, just maybe, until he found the courage to fly."

Each character speaks in their own voices in separate chapters, including those of the caretaker and the housekeeper of the seasonal properties to give a better understanding of the situation. Personal thoughts and feelings are disclosed to offer insight into the actions taken.

No one knows what happens in other families—the stresses they face, the hardships, the sadness, and pain. The Fifth of July encompasses the lives of one family, who share their angst and deep-felt emotions as they try to come together to become whole before they are all destroyed.

A Stranger in the House

 

By Shari Lapena

Pamela Dorman Books

August 15, 2017

10-075322112X

978-0735221123

320 pages

Thriller/Suspense

 

Karen Krupp loves Tom, her husband of almost two years. They live in a well-appointed house in an upper-middle-class neighborhood in New York. Meticulous almost to the point of being obsessive, Karen takes pride in all she does. Her home is spotless, her cooking is perfection, and she always obeys the law.

Tom, an accountant, looks forward to being with his wife after a hard day's work. He still can't believe his fortune to be married to Karen and be blissfully happy. One night he is puzzled upon returning home and finding the front door ajar. He calls for Karen, but the house is empty. A search leaves him a bit frantic. Her car is gone, though her purse and cell phone remain behind, and their dinner is left half prepared in the kitchen.

A call to friends offers no hope, so Tom dials 911, even though he understands the police will no doubt brush him off. Karen hasn't been missing 24 hours, and she is an adult, free to go as she pleases. Tom realizes this behavior is atypical of Karen. She would never act like this.

Within minutes the doorbell rings surprising Tom upon seeing two detectives on the steps. He can't fathom they would answer his call so quickly, but by the look on their faces, Tom senses something is terribly wrong. They inform Tom that Karen has been in a terrible accident and is in the hospital. The strange thing, this happened in a seedy part of town. Why was Karen there and at night?

Tom rushes to Karen's bedside, distraught and confused. He, along with the authorities need answers. Unfortunately, Karen cannot remember anything about the incident. Tom remains with her as she recovers, hoping she can explain her actions.

Not long after, a corpse is discovered in an abandoned restaurant in the area where Karen crashed. The man shot three times is left with no identification or personal effects. The police are stymied, wondering if Karen knows this man and if he was the reason she was nearby.

Tom is dazed, confounded, and speculative about Karen. Does he really know who she is? Brigid, Karen's neighbor who lives across the street, is a constant presence, offering assistance and comfort to Karen and Tom. Brigid presses Karen for information, but is unsuccessful, which frustrates her. How can Karen say she's her best friend when she won't divulge anything? Did Karen have anything to do with the dead man? Questions abound, and the cops dig deeper determined to pin the murder on Karen.

The author manages to catch the attention through the many twists and turns in the plot, yet the writing proves somewhat pedestrian. The characters are not well developed, and there is more "telling" than "showing" in this novel. An example of this is when Tom searches his home trying to find clues as to what Karen is secreting from him:

Then Tom had done two things. He'd searched online for a local criminal lawyer and made an appointment. And then he'd torn the house apart... 

...The kitchen had taken the longest. He felt through the cereal boxes, the bags of flour, rice, sugar—anything that wasn't sealed. He took everything out of the every cupboard and drawers and looked all the way in the back. He felt unseen surfaces for anything that might be affixed to them. He looked at the top shelves of closets, under the rugs and mattresses, inside suitcases and seldom-worn boots and shoes. He went down to the basement, breathing in the musty air and waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light.

The reader is caught up in the drama of the scheme which carries this story. More in-depth retrospective for every player is needed, distinguishing them from each other as well as allowing one's imagination to evolve throughout the manuscript rather than describing things step-by-step as they unfurl. With this one negative in mind, the overall scenario of this book proves to be exciting right up until the unexpected and shocking conclusion.

Any Dream Will Do

 

By Debbie Macomber

Ballantine Books

August 8, 2017

10-0399181199

978-0399481191

336 pages

Contemporary Women's Fiction

 

Because someone has gone astray and made mistakes, do they deserve a second chance, even if their missteps have meant being incarcerated?

Shay Benson's life changed as a teen after her mother died. Her worthless and abusive father left leaving her to care for her younger brother, Caden.

Shay is trying to move on when an agonized Caden begs for her help. Caught up in the drug scene, he owes a lot of money. If he doesn't come up with it, it could cause him his life. Shay, employed as a teller, falls for his pleading and consents to steal from the bank when he promises to return the funds.

Responsible for Caden, she realizes taking the money is wrong, knowing she'll be in serious trouble, but she must protect her brother. Of course, once Caden gets the cash, he takes off, and Shay is facing a three-year jail term for embezzlement. Angry for being taken in Shay is determined to rebuild her life upon her release, refusing contact with Caden.

Released from prison before Christmas with a few hundred dollars and no place to go, Shay is dropped off by a bus in front of a church where she goes to think and be out of the cold. There she meets Pastor Drew Douglas, a man suffering his own private hell, grieving over the loss of his wife some years prior. He sees something in Shay, and through his connections he gets her admitted to the Hope Center in a one-year program allowing her to get back on her feet.

Belligerent and aloof, Shay soon becomes involved with the curriculum and loses the chip in her shoulder. Drew often checks on her and they become friends. She is drawn close to Drew's children, Sarah and Mark, relishing in the warmth of a family life she never experienced. Due to her past, she will not allow herself to dream of finding love or marriage.

Drew takes her to dinner after completing the program as she is rebuilding her future. Her belligerence now gone, is shown here:

Once the server left the table, I continued with our conversation. ''When I first came to Hope Center, Lilly asked me what my dreams were. At the time I was in a dark place and unable to see my way out of this black hole. Any dream I'd ever hoped to have had been destroyed. There was no going back.'' I paused when I saw a sad look leak into Drew's eyes. ''That was how I felt at the time. Do you know what Lilly said to me?''

"Tell me,'' he urged.

"She said any dream would do. And so I gave her a list of what seemed like impossible dreams that I once had before my life went to hell in a handbasket. And a funny thing started to happen. The longer we talked, the more I felt hope creeping into my heart. It astonished me to learn that all it took was a few discussions with Lilly. My hopes for the future, things I had once set in my mind, dreams that had seemed forever lost, all at once they felt real. Achievable.'

Drew has conflicting feelings. Grateful to Shay for getting him out of his depression, he is attracted to her, impressed she is working hard to build a new life. He sees her as warm, selfless, and caring, one he could picture in his life. His kids love her, so what better endorsement is that? Only thing, the parishioners and church elders do not trust her, believing she and her past sets a bad example.

Written in alternating chapters in the voices of both Shay and Drew, this emotionally-charged novel offers redemption as well as mystery and romance. Ms. Macomber delves deep into the mind of a woman who loves to the point of not considering the dire consequences. A heartwarming tale showing how to heal, forgive, and be a better person, Any Dream Will Do proves second chances can help one change. 

Before Everything

 

By Victoria Redel

Viking

June 27, 2017

10-0735222576

978-0735222571

Contemporary Women's Fiction 

288 pages

 

Nothing is quite like the bond of true friendship, and no one realizes this more than Anna as she fights another battle with dreaded cancer which has returned yet again. With the support and comfort of her "Old Friends," Helen, Molly, Ming, and Caroline, Anna faces her upcoming demise with composure. 

An independent and dynamic middle-aged woman, Anna gains power from the besties she's had since grammar school. Also, many love her including her not-so-ex-husband, Reuben, her sons, brothers, and many neighbors in her western Massachusetts town. 

Though embarking on a depressing, yet inevitable topic, the subject is handled with grace and style. The many chapters contain subplots with several of the characters, referring back into their history with each other, comparing their past times with more recent events. 

These five women each tell their particular story, contributing their joys and sorrows, depending on their closeness to help them through any crisis. Anna is the catalyst of the group as her opinions, advice, and familiarity make them turn to her while at the same time they wonder how they will live without her.

Close as they all are, Anna conceals the inner musings she does not share with these women, such as:

"Even with all these friends—more than more people could manage or even want—she's had loneliness. She feels it now. It has always been there. Certainly with Reuben, hadn't there been loneliness? She tried not to let her children see that hem of her loneliness, though they sensed it . . .

"Maybe, always, that separation, that scratchy husk of loneliness was preparation for this. So she would not be frightened of leaving. She'd been frightened for so many years. And then she wasn't."

As Anna weakens, her friends surround her with love as well as trepidation, as they all tiptoe around the mention her imminent death. Only Helen, who believes she is the closest to Anna, asks, "Are you afraid?"

Anna's thoughts turn to: "This is what Helen has never asked, what over all these years of treatment and period of health Helen and The Old Friends have trained themselves not to ask. It was a tacit agreement. The answer too obvious, it loomed in each moment's specific worry."

"'Are you afraid?'" Helen repeats. And now above everything, Helen needs to hear Anna's answer. Ming tilts her head, and Molly glances in the rearview. Helen sees they all genuinely don't know. They've been so busy with their own fear. None of them have dared to ask her." 

A riveting and emotional story, Before Everything dares to delve into a matter no one wants to discuss. In spite of this and because of the impact and closeness of these women, they dare to express their fears and heartaches while they still cling to hope for Anna's recovery.

Each character voices his or her internal thoughts and anxieties, covering the whole spectrum of immortality from different points of view. The essence of this tale is the sharing and love between one another—not a maudlin read, but a depiction of affection, strength, and how one person can affect the lives of so many.

The Identicals

 

By Elin Hilderbrand

Little, Brown and Company

June 13, 2017

10-0316375195

978-0316375191

432 pages

Contemporary Women's Fiction

 

Do identical twins share more than the same DNA? Are their temperaments, needs, and desires similar? Elin Hilderbrand's The Identicals explores the lives of Tabitha and Harper Frost, so matching in looks it's easy to mistake one for the other.

When Harper and Tabitha were growing up. Lots of people thought they were interchangeable. They looked exactly alike, so therefore they were exactly alike.

Harper resides on Martha's Vineyard, where, after her parents' divorce, she went to live with her father, Billy. Easy-going and a free spirit, Harper often dips her toes into the deep waters of disaster. Fired from a job for making a drug delivery, not knowing the contents, she fortunately wasn't incarcerated. Currently she is having an affair with Reed Zimmer, the local doctor treating her father and whose wife Sadie discovers Reed's infidelity. With the Vineyard as small as it is, Harper becomes the topic of the newest scandal.

Tabitha lives on Nantucket, after winning the short straw and being raised by her snobbish and pretentious mother, Eleanor, a well-known dressmaker and boutique owner. Never married, Tabitha is raising 16-year-old Ainsley who proves to be more than a handful. Tabitha's character is snooty like her mother, and she cannot manage relationships with men. After she lost her son Julian as an infant, the hurt has remained for years and also caused an estrangement between her and Harper.

Tabitha, Eleanor, and Ainsley go to the Vineyard for a memorial after Billy's death. Tabitha, mistaken for Harper, is accosted by Sadie, causing a ruckus. Again dismissed from another job, Harper only wishes to escape her home where gossip runs rampant.

Returning to Nantucket, Eleanor takes a fall and is airlifted to a Boston hospital where she requires surgery. Tabitha knows her mother expects her with her, but what about Ainsley? With no social life and her past lover dumping her for another, younger woman, who can she rely on? When Ainsley informs her mother she begged Harper to take care of her, her mother is livid. Tabitha doesn't want her sister in any part of her life, but Eleanor requires she be with her, regardless of the fact that the business and their local store, which Eleanor owns and Tabitha manages, is failing.

Harper sees this as a chance to flee from her duplex, even though she should stick around to sell Billy's home. She hates being the brunt wagging tongues and leaving for a while should stop the rumormongers. Tabitha tired of being responsible for her hard-nosed mother and irascible daughter gives in and offers to renovate Billy's house; remodeling is something she always dreamed of doing. This way they can attain a better sale price, and Tabitha will finally have some time to herself.

Each at the other's domicile, they are more settled and stress-free. Harper befriends Ramsey, Tabitha's ex-lover, while Tabitha falls in love with Sadie's brother. Quite a mishmash of emotions and what many would consider a huge contradiction.

Ramsey questions Harper about her sister: "Explain to me how she can be so uptight, and you can be so laid-back. Was it always that way?"

Was it always that way? Tabitha had long been an approval seeker, whereas Harper figured if other people didn't like her, they could buzz off. Harper was, by nature, lazy and easily distracted . . . As an adult, it seems, the traits that distinguished the twins from each other had only become exaggerated and solidified. . . .

The sisters may be indistinguishable in appearance, but that's where it ends. Once close as two peas in a pod, their 14-year separation leaves them bitter and entirely different in their outlook and views on life. What happens when the women find themselves in each other's shoes? Will they be able to discern the reasons why the other acts as they do? Will this give them the impetus to let bygones be bygones and reclaim the love they once shared?

The Identicals delves into the complexities of family interactions dealing with discord, misunderstandings, and hurts. A compelling read, slowed down somewhat by the name dropping of places and goods, it tends toward the ostentatious, yet the sentiments and disparity of the well-developed characters carry the plot to a satisfying conclusion.

The Beach at Painter's Cove

 

 By Shelley Noble

William Morrow Books

June 13, 2017

10-0062439073

987-0062439079

432 pages

Contemporary Women's Fiction

 

Every family member shares some of the same personality traits, as is with the four generations of Whitaker's. The matriarch, Lenore (Leo) and her now deceased husband Wes along with his sister Fae, for years, hosted galas at their extensive mansion set on the Connecticut shore. With Wes's passing the two women depend on Leo's grandson-in-law to handle finances, and they are reclusive.

Wes and Leo parented George, who disappointed his them by not following their artistic proclivities and Jillian, a well-known actress. Another son, Max perished while serving the country in war. George is aloof and standoffish wanting nothing more than to shove his mother and aunt in assisted housing. He will not forgive his father for handing over the estate duties to his Dan Barrister, his niece Vivienne's husband.

Jillian dropped her young daughters, Vivienne and Isabelle (Issy) at the Muses by the Sea, her parent's compound when she became famous. Jillian's abandonment rankled the sisters, making their relationship chilly at best, as well as their feelings toward their mother.

Vivienne is only interested in status and what money can buy. Things go awry with her marriage, and she dumps her three children with Leo to search for Dan who has gone missing. Her offspring, Stephanie, embarking on the teen years is sullen, whereas younger Mandy takes after her mother by being a drama queen, and Griffin, the youngest, is bewildered and cranky by being deserted.

When Leo ends up in the hospital after a fall, the police contact Issy as to the welfare of the children. Issy, a workaholic, designing museum sets for a Manhattan firm is baffled, not realizing the youngsters are at the shore, and also upset about Leo's health. She rushes to the home she hasn't visited in years, dumbfounded to realize her sister pulled her mother's act by leaving the kids in Leo's care.

As Issy reunites with her beloved grandmother and colorful, yet eccentric aunt, she's wrenched in several directions. Why did Vivienne take off after Dan, and where did he go? How can she attend to the nieces and nephew she doesn't know, especially when her job is calling? But more important, how can she help Leo and Fae whose once palatial home is falling to ruin around them?

Issy phones Jillian with whom she is estranged hoping to attain some funds, after learning the family is destitute, but is shocked to hear her mother is penniless:

"It pushed Issy right over the brink. 'I'm not bitter, I'm pissed. I haven't asked you for anything in twenty-four years. And when I finally do give in to ask for a loan--a loan--so that your mother and my grandmother can stay in her own home after my sister--that's your other daughter--robbed her blind. What do I get? You. Broke? What if I hadn't called? Who would you have sponged off then?'"

Each well-defined player displays distinct traits setting them apart from the others, yet they prove to be alike in many ways:

Leo spends most of her time living in the past, communing with her dead husband and son, though she is not maudlin.

Fae, an unconventional and fascinating individual, lives in a fairy tale, wearing multi-colored clothing and drawing her magical stories on the town sidewalks.

Jillian is selfish and narcissistic, and with her celebrity standing waning as she's aged caused her to seek out the generosity of different men.

Vivienne, self-absorbed like her mother blames everyone for problems she faces, chiefly by denigrating Issy.

Issy carries the burden of believing she's been unwanted all her life, though Wes, Leo, and Fae showed her unconditional acceptance. She buries herself in her career with no attachments so she cannot be wounded further.

Stephanie is on the cusp of becoming a young woman and despises her situation, showing scorn to everyone until Fae takes her under her wing with her mystical tales and Issy displays love and kindness.

A story built on frustrations, insults, and loss, Shelley Nobel offers a poignant, thought-provoking family saga with each player well described both in the physical and emotional sense. The locale illustrates a charming, yet run-down backdrop for what once was the site of a captivating manor of the wealthy and illustrious. References to artists and performers, along with a portrayal of the local ecology provide much more than a broken family who needs to come together. Well-written and character driven, The Beach at Painter's Cove combines a juxtaposition of the differences and similarities of generations.

The Cottingley Secret

 

By Hazel Gaynor

William Morrow Paperbacks]

August 1, 2017

10-006249984X

978-0062499844

416 pages

Historical Fiction

 

In 1917 while in the throes of the First World War, nine-year-old Frances Griffiths left her home in Cape Town, Africa, with her mother to stay with her aunt in Cottingley, England. Frances, sad and missing her father as he fights in the battle, soon adjusts and becomes great friends with her cousin Elsie Wright, who is seven years her senior.

Frances is drawn to the beck, an enchanting forest and stream behind her aunt's home, and much to her mother's consternation spends most of her free time there. One day, Frances spots mystical colors in the woods, believing wholeheartedly they are the fairies alleged to reside in the countryside.

Letting only Elsie in on her findings, the two decide to photograph the sprites to prove they do exist, though it seems they are only visible to Frances. Elsie, a talented young artist, draws illustrations of fairies and she and Frances set the stage for photos appearing so real, author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, states they are in fact authentic, and writes about them using the pictures, causing quite a sensation across Europe and later the world.

Now, it's 2017, and Olivia Kavanagh returns to her childhood home in Ireland. Her grandfather recently died, and she learns she inherited his book shop, Something Old, which sells rare and antique books. Olivia reminisces over the happy times spent there, and though she should be in London planning her nuptials; finally settling down at age thirty five, Olivia feels torn. Does she really want to get married? Can she leave her nana who is in a nearby nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's?

Frustrated with her options and thrilled to own Something Old, can she cancel her wedding, with which the preparations are already in full swing? Doesn't she owe it her fiancé to follow through even though it doesn't feel right to her?

A note Pappy left Olivia encourages her to believe in herself and live the life she desires. Along with his missive, he leaves a memoir written by Frances Griffin 100 years earlier. Olivia is enchanted by the musings from that era with tales of sprites and fairies, and she yearns to learn more about this captivating child as well as information about her own heritage.

Olivia's melodious prose contains similes and metaphors adding a flowery description to her tale. The following is such an example when Olivia mentions the loss of her beloved grandfather:

The awful reality of his absence hit her, ripping through the shop like a brick through glass, sending broken memories of happier times skittering across the creaky floorboards to hide in dark grief-stricken corners. He wasn't there, and yet he was everywhere: in every cracked spine, on every dusty shelf, in the warped glass at the windows and the mustard-yellow walls. Something Old wasn't just a bookshop. It was him—Pappy—in bricks and mortar, leather and paper. He'd loved this place so much, and Olivia knew she must now love it for him.

Olivia's conversations with her grandmother do not offer much, for the older woman's recollections are sporadic at best. Many years ago Olivia's mother gave her a silver-framed photo of a little girl among fairies, and she wonders her nana knows if it's still around. Fascinated by history and the Irish fantasies Olivia procrastinates canceling her upcoming marriage.

Author Gaynor weaves an account of fiction with the century's old historical information from Frances's memoirs. One cannot help but be enthralled by the drama and excitement as two young girls discover their mystical beck foretelling mysteries exposed only to children.

Frances's writings from the past intertwine flawlessly into the novel, and facts from a century ago are divulged in the eyes of a child as shown here:

                            Cottingley, Yorkshire. June 1917.

 The weeks passed quickly blown away by the stiff spring breezes that whistled down the chimney breast and blew the blossoms from the trees and tugged at my hat as I walked up the hill from Cottingley Bar tram. The only thing the wind couldn't blow away was the dark shadow of war that hung over us all like a thundercloud. But I was happy at Bingley Grammar, and as the days lengthened and the last of the snow thawed on the distant hilltops, so too did my indifference to Yorkshire. Best of all, the warmer weather meant more time to play at the beck at the bottom of the garden, where Elsie often joined me.

While Olivia contemplates her future, she listens to her heart to discover the woman she is destined to be. At a time when folks needed something to believe in during a horrendous war, Olivia knows she must believe in herself. The meshing of both stories produces a delightful read.

The Swallow's Nest


 
By Emilie Richards

MIRA

June 13, 2017

10-0778320006

978-0778320005

496 pages

Contemporary Women's Fiction

  

What constitutes being a mother? Is it giving birth to a child or loving and caring for one who isn't born to you? This is the premise for Emilie Richards' latest release, The Swallow's Nest.

Lilia Swallow couldn't be happier; she loves her handsome husband Graham, the California home she inherited, and her career. For the past year, she has been diligently watching over Graham throughout chemotherapy sessions after being diagnosed with lymphoma. Though her own business as a home design blogger is her passion, Graham now is her primary concern.

After the long and tedious treatment, Graham is in remission, so Lilia holds a party to celebrate the good news. Their friends and Graham's colleagues gather to wish him continued recovery. Then an uninvited guest arrives, thrusting a three-month-old infant into Lilia's hands declaring he is Graham's son. She is leaving him to Graham for he did not keep his promise to support both of them. Lilia believes this is a mistake until she sees the guilty look on her husband's face. They had talked about children, but with Graham's uncertain illness Lilia thought they should wait. It looks he got what he wanted, just not with her.

The baby's mother, Marina comments upon handing over the child with Lilia: "You'll have lots of time to think about this moment and what a horrible person I am. But while you're at it, don't forget I gave this baby life. Think about that, Lilia, when you're feeling superior. I did something you couldn't be bothered to do. And think about what it was like for me to manage everything on my own up to this point when I was promised so much more."

Intensely shocked, angered, and hurt, Lilia flees home to the comforting arms of her family in Hawaii. She misses Graham, realizing she cannot be angry at baby Toby, so she decides to go back and be a mother to this child. Tensions are high between Graham and her though he is very repentant. Graham explains he worried he wouldn't survive and because she wouldn't get pregnant, he needed to have a part of him remain.

Soon Lilia and Toby form a deep bond, and she couldn't love him more if he were her own. At almost a year since Toby's arrival, Carrick Donnelly, Graham's best friend, and attorney suggest they petition for adoption. During that time Marina makes no attempt to connect with her baby.

Then Graham's conniving mother with whom he's been estranged for years devises a plot for Marina to legally regain the boy. A custody battle commences.

Deeply emotional, three women are vying for a child's life. Who will the courts decide is the best mother for him? This novel offers genuine compassion, forgiveness, and selflessness as the real meaning of motherhood.

Same Beach, Next Year

 

By Dorothea Benton Frank

William Morrow

May 16, 2017

10-0062390783

978-0062390783

384 pages

Contemporary Women's Fiction

  

Eliza and Adam Stanley are parents to two precocious twin sons, Max and Luke. They rent a condo on the Isle of Palms, a barrier island near Charleston where they unexpectedly meet Carl and Eve Landers, and daughter Daphne. They hit it off until Eliza learns Adam and Eve were intimately close in high school. Adam still appears to be besotted by this beautiful woman, whom he never disclosed his relationship with to Eliza. Was this meeting truly unexpected? 

Eliza feels threatened and is determined not to like Eve. Carl experiences jealousy, though he and Eliza try to brush off negative thoughts. He flirts shamelessly with Eliza, while he and Adam find themselves in competition on the golf course.

The couples buy condos at Wild Dunes and vacation together every year, cementing their friendship. Also, Adam's dad, Ted comes with Clarabeth, a woman he later marries, and Eve's eccentric mother Cookie, decides to join the group, making for a humorous and trying time for all. Cookie, brazen in speech, dress, and attitude makes a play for Ted, which amuses the younger folks.

Young Max, being supervised by Clarabeth and Ted at the playground falls, breaking his arm and needs medical attention. They rush him to the hospital where Carl, a pediatric surgeon, makes sure he receives the best care possible, further bonding the families.

Years pass and Eliza and Carl still sense an attraction between Eve and Adam but think nothing of it until one day Adam goes to the island to perform repairs on their property. At the spur of the moment, Eliza plans to surprise him only to find him asleep on Eve's couch with her curled next to him wearing only a skimpy robe. 
Fury sets in, and Eliza thinks of all she has given up for Adam and the boys. She heads to Greece, her mother's birthplace, and where she's always wanted to go. Eliza's pain and Adam's ignorance of his actions are shown in the following when she is summoned home after Clarabeth's death:

"I'm glad you're back," Adam said.
"Only until Monday, then I'm going back to Greece."
"I know, but how long will you be away?"
"A week, maybe two. I'm not sure."
"Eliza! You can't just leave me like this and expect everything to be the same when you get home, you know."
"Adam? That's the point, isn't it? I don't want everything to be the same when I return. Got it? You've got a whole lot of soul-searching to be before there's a chance to make things right between us again." 
"I've already done that. I want things right between us."
"How do you know?"
"Because I saw Eve. And I know now that I'm just not interested in her like that."
"Really? Where'd you see her?"


It's amazing how men have no clue, but believe a simple apology can fix everything. Eliza, feeling betrayed, no longer trusts the man she's loved for decades. When a disaster happens, fate brings the four of them together for a reason. 

Once again Dorothea Benton Frank invites us to the Lowcountry of South Carolina where she captivates her readers with a moving tale of love, family, and heartbreak, only to confirm there can be a happily-ever-after no matter the circumstances. 

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