REVIEW: THE BEACH CLUB, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

Mack Petersen, manager of the hotel, has been working at The Beach Club for 12 summers. Only this summer is different. His boss, the owner of the hotel, Bill Elliot, shows up in the spring with a new set of demands. His girlfriend Maribel is pressing Mack to get married and Vance, the African-American bellman, who has hated Mack since the day Mack stole his job 12 years ago, threatens him in a deadly scene. Mack knows something’s got to give.

Love O’Donnell, the new front desk person straight from the slopes of Aspen, is desperately searching for a stranger to father her child. The bellman, Jem Crandall, who posed as Mr. November in his college calendar, is on his way to LA to break into agenting, until he falls in love with Maribel. Emotions are at a peak when a hurricane threatens to wash away The Beach Club and all it stands for.

An engrossing, sexy novel that will sweep you away to the beach any time of the year.

 

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The Beach Club brings a full cast of characters to the hotel, spotlighting the staff and the guests. Mack kept my interest up as he navigated his position while trying to decide whether or not to marry his girlfriend of twelve years. Maribel had one goal in mind: to marry her live-in lover. But would it ever happen?

Other contenders for the role of husband were other staff members, especially young Jem Crandall who is eager to step up.

Meanwhile, Love was in search of a man to impregnate her. Someone who wouldn’t want to stand in as the father…just the “sperm donor.”

Would the competitive staff at the hotel keep everyone on their toes? Would a hurricane change the dynamic as they each struggled to achieve their desires?

By the end, there were happy moments and unexpected ones that kept me turning the pages. 4.5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE LAST NIGHT IN LONDON, BY KAREN WHITE

London, 1939. Beautiful and ambitious Eva Harlow and her American best friend, Precious Dubose, are trying to make their way as fashion models. When Eva falls in love with Graham St. John, an aristocrat and Royal Air Force pilot, she can’t believe her luck—she’s getting everything she ever wanted. Then the Blitz devastates her world, and Eva finds herself slipping into a web of intrigue, spies, and secrets. As Eva struggles to protect her friendship with Precious and everything she holds dear, all it takes is one unwary moment to change their lives forever…

London, 2019. American journalist Maddie Warner, whose life has been marked by the tragic loss of her mother, travels to London to interview Precious about her life in pre-WWII London. Maddie has been careful to close herself off to others, but in Precious she recognizes someone whose grief rivals her own—but unlike Maddie, Precious hasn’t allowed it to crush her. Maddie finds herself drawn to both Precious and to Colin, her enigmatic surrogate nephew. As Maddie gets closer to her, she begins to unravel Precious’s haunting past—a story of friendship, betrayal, and the unremembered acts of kindness and of love.

 

an interior journey thoughts

A story that sweeps between the past and the present, showing the lives of two young women searching for love and careers, The Last Night in London kept me eagerly turning the pages. Along the way, I wondered what had happened during those wartime years to those that seemed to be missing…or dead.

As journalist Maddie Warner delves into the stories told through letters and through the voice of Precious Dubose, she also fills in details discovered in photos and through the clothes the two young women wore during the early 1940s.

What we also learn along the way is how secrets, reinvention, and frightening wartime intrigue kept one young woman hiding the truth of who she was and the various incarnations she created to protect those she loved.

By the end, we learn the whole story and what had become of those who were lost along the way. A five star read.

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REVIEW: PERIL, BY BOB WOODWARD & ROBERT COSTA

The transition from President Donald J. Trump to President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stands as one of the most dangerous periods in American history. But as # 1 internationally bestselling author Bob Woodward and acclaimed reporter Robert Costa reveal for the first time, it was far more than just a domestic political crisis. Woodward and Costa interviewed more than 200 people at the center of the turmoil, resulting in more than 6,000 pages of transcripts—and a spellbinding and definitive portrait of a nation on the brink. This classic study of Washington takes readers deep inside the Trump White House, the Biden White House, the 2020 campaign, and the Pentagon and Congress, with vivid, eyewitness accounts of what really happened.  It is supplemented throughout with never-before-seen material from secret orders, transcripts of confidential calls, diaries, emails, meeting notes and other personal and government records, making for an unparalleled history. It is also the first inside look at Biden’s presidency as he faces the challenges of a lifetime: the continuing deadly pandemic and millions of Americans facing soul-crushing economic pain, all the while navigating a bitter and disabling partisan divide, a world rife with threats, and the hovering, dark shadow of the former president. “We have much to do in this winter of peril,” Biden declared at his inauguration, an event marked by a nerve-wracking security alert and the threat of domestic terrorism. It is the extraordinary story of the end of one presidency and the beginning of another, and represents the culmination of Bob Woodward’s news-making trilogy on the Trump presidency, along with the beginning of a collaboration with fellow reporter Robert Costa that will remind readers of Woodward’s coverage, with Carl Bernstein, of President Richard M. Nixon’s final days.

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As I dipped into the pages of Peril, I was eager to read more from Woodward in this collaboration with Costa.  But had we already seen more than enough of Trump World?

Instead of sinking into boredom, however, I enjoyed the short chapters and the anecdotal style that reflected numerous interviews that filled out a picture of not only Trump and his rages but the very human side of Biden, too.

I liked reading how he loved living in the Vice Presidential residence during his eight years serving with Obama…a home up a hill that was comfortable, more akin to his own home in Delaware.  We also saw him during some of his frustrations, giving us a glimpse of his human side.

These forays into the Biden presidency in its early months helped me feel a sense of optimism about the future despite the ongoing peril we all must accept and face, too.

What will become of our democracy, now that we have teetered on the edge of its destruction?  Will we rebuild and go on, like we did after the Nixon years?  Or is it too late?

A book that kept me turning pages, going back and forth between my two Kindles, until I reached the end.  5 stars.#2021ReadNonFic

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REVIEW: THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED, BY LISA JEWELL

On a beautiful summer night in a charming English suburb, a young woman and her boyfriend disappear after partying at the massive country estate of a new college friend.

One year later, a writer moves into a cottage on the edge of the woods that border the same estate. Known locally as the Dark Place, the dense forest is the writer’s favorite area for long walks and it’s on one such walk that she stumbles upon a mysterious note that simply reads, “DIG HERE.”

Could this be a clue towards what has happened to the missing young couple? And what exactly is buried in this haunted ground?

 

an interior journey thoughts

From the very first page of The Night She Disappeared, I was caught up in the mysterious events, narrated from the past and the present, offering bits and pieces of information with each step forward and backward. I especially liked learning how Kim and Sophie teamed up to find clues from social media sites.

What really happened on that summer evening when Talullah and Zach went missing? Did a group of friends who partied that night know more than they were sharing?

As I kept turning the pages, I had some thoughts about what might have happened, but in the end, I found the resolution to be unexpected.

I enjoyed figuring out the characters and their behavior, and definitely had mixed feelings about some of them. I loved the conclusion, which satisfactorily brought good things for some of them. 5 stars.

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REVIEW: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR, BY NICCI FRENCH

Who is more dangerous? An enemy, a friend, or a lover?

When Bonnie Graham arrives at her boyfriend’s apartment in London, she is horrified to discover a dead body in a pool of blood on the floor. But she doesn’t call the police. Bonnie hides the corpse and then carefully wipes away any evidence she was ever there.

Bonnie is a music teacher who spent a long, hot summer in London rehearsing with a band to play at a friend’s wedding. It was supposed to be fun, but the band members find the complicated knots of their friendships—some old, some new—unraveling as the days themselves unwind. What was meant to be a summer of happiness, love, and music turns deadly as lovers betray one another, passions turn murderous, and friendship itself becomes a crime.

Everyone tells lies. But is anyone prepared to tell the truth to uncover a murderer?

 

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From the beginning of The Other Side of the Door, we are swept back and forth in time: “Before” narratives followed by “After.” We only slowly come to realize what has happened and how a dead body ended up in Liza’s flat.

I thought I had it figured out, but soon realized with each piece of information provided in the flashbacks that I had been wrong.

But who did kill the man found on the floor? For a while, we didn’t even know who that was. I liked the unveiling of moments, which piqued my interest and kept me reading. Then, with each new revelation, everything is seemingly tipped upside down once again. By the end, nothing seems sorted, but life goes on. 5 stars.

REVIEW: 56 DAYS, BY CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD

No one even knew they were together. Now one of them is dead.

56 DAYS AGO
Ciara and Oliver meet in a supermarket queue in Dublin and start dating the same week COVID-19 reaches Irish shores.

35 DAYS AGO
When lockdown threatens to keep them apart, Oliver suggests they move in together. Ciara sees a unique opportunity for a relationship to flourish without the scrutiny of family and friends. Oliver sees a chance to hide who—and what—he really is.

TODAY
Detectives arrive at Oliver’s apartment to discover a decomposing body inside.

Can they determine what really happened, or has lockdown created an opportunity for someone to commit the perfect crime?

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A twisty tale that focuses on the first days of COVID 19 lock-down in Dublin, 56 Days brings two characters to light: a man hiding from his past, and a woman seeking answers about hers.

Oliver and Ciara meet by accident, supposedly. As their story unfolds in sweeping past and present moments, we learn tidbits about them, even as they are trying to keep secrets from each other.

The back and forth time frame was a bit confusing to me, and parts of their stories are repetitive, but those variations in their stories change what we come to realize about them.

Despite these issues, I did enjoy trying to figure out their true stories, which we don’t learn until the very end. My favorite parts were walking through the lockdown with them, which resonated with me as I recall my own lockdown experiences. A story that earned 4.5 stars from me.

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REVIEW: THE DOWNSTAIRS NEIGHBOR, BY HELEN COOPER

 

One House. Three Families. Countless Secrets.

From her downstairs apartment in suburban London, Emma has often overheard the everyday life of the seemingly perfect family upstairs—Steph, Paul and teenage daughter Freya—but has never got to know them. Until one day, she hears something that seizes her attention: Freya has vanished and the police are questioning Steph and Paul about their life. Do either of you have any enemies? Anyone who might want to harm or threaten you?

The effects of Freya’s disappearance ripple outward, affecting not just her parents, but everyone who lives in the building, including Emma and local driving instructor Chris, who was the last person to see the teenager before she went missing. Each character’s life is thrown into sharp focus as devastating mistakes and long-held secrets are picked apart and other crimes come to light—including a child gone missing twenty-five years earlier, and a shocking murder—that make clear that the past never stays where we leave it, and that homes can be built on foundations of lies.
 
 
 
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From the opening narrative, The Downstairs Neighbor revealed the residents of an old house turned into apartments, and there is a spooky presence there from the beginning.

Emma’s voice is first heard, as she describes eavesdropping on the upstairs neighbors. We gradually learn more about her with each of her alternating narratives.

There is Chris, who teaches driving to high schoolers; then there are Steph and Paul, whose daughter Freya goes missing.

Finally, we are swept back in time twenty-five years to Kate and her mother, their secrets slowly brought to light. What, if anything, connects the past with the present?

Who has taken Freya? Or has she simply run away? As the search continues, we learn more about them all. By the end, we clearly see what has happened…and we realize the truth. But will it be too late? A five star read.
 
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REVIEW: A SLOW FIRE BURNING, BY PAULA HAWKINS

When a young man is found gruesomely murdered in a London houseboat, it triggers questions about three women who knew him. Laura is the troubled one-night-stand last seen in the victim’s home. Carla is his grief-stricken aunt, already mourning the recent death of yet another family member. And Miriam is the nosy neighbor clearly keeping secrets from the police. Three women with separate connections to the victim. Three women who are—for different reasons—simmering with resentment. Who are, whether they know it or not, burning to right the wrongs done to them. When it comes to revenge, even good people might be capable of terrible deeds. How far might any one of them go to find peace? How long can secrets smolder before they explode into flame?

 

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As we meet each of the potential perpetrators in A Slow Fire Burning, we can imagine how one of them might have turned to violence. Simmering resentments can boil over.

Instead we find ourselves looking behind the facades of their lives, studying them from various perspectives, and we can almost empathize.

It will take a while, however, before we reach the appropriate conclusions.

In fact, by the end, there were a few convoluted twists and turns that steered me off course a bit. Definitely a five star read, however.

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REVIEW: SURFSIDE SISTERS, BY NANCY THAYER

Keely Green always dreamed of leaving the beautiful shores of Nantucket to become a writer. Now she’s a bestselling novelist living in New York City, attending glamorous cocktail parties and mingling with the literary elite. Keely is also dating a charming, perfectly fine pediatric surgeon who looks good on paper but isn’t “the one.” She just can’t bear to break it off—until he declares his desire to settle down. Then Keely’s editor rejects her latest novel. With her personal and professional lives suddenly in shambles, Keely longs for the soothing island way of life.

Growing up, Keely and her best friend, Isabelle, were inseparable. Nothing could come between them—except, as it turned out, Keely’s high school boyfriend, Tommy. Returning home would mean facing Isabelle’s bitter betrayal and seeing for herself the family Tommy and Isabelle have created, the life that might have been Keely’s.

But when Keely’s mother falls into a deep depression, Keely knows what she must do, even though she is reluctant to face her estranged friend. And encountering Isabelle’s older brother, Sebastian—Keely’s longtime crush—only complicates things.

In one incredible summer, Keely must confront the mistakes of the past if she has any chance of finding true happiness in the place she will always call home. Nancy Thayer shines yet again in this uplifting tale of forgiveness and self-discovery.

 

an interior journey thoughts

 

As we immerse ourselves in Surfside Sisters, we are caught up with Keely and Isabelle in their younger years, walking alongside them as they grow and change, following their dreams and struggling with their challenges.

But it is only when Keely has to drop out of college for financial reasons that Keely and Isabelle drift apart. Keely envies the life Isabelle is living, one that is uninterrupted by money issues.

However, when Keely writes her first novel, and then her second, her path to success changes things between them again. When Isabelle, out of envy, makes a decision that betrays the friendship, they are completely estranged for years.

I must admit that I did not like Isabelle and felt that her entitled existence and the way she betrayed Keely would have kept me from ever forgiving her. But Keely’s love for the lost friendship and the past ties brought her to a place of forgiveness. In the end, they find a way to reconnect. A book I enjoyed until the very end. 4 stars.

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REVIEW: THE RECKONING, BY MARY TRUMP

The Reckoning will examine America’s national trauma, rooted in our history but dramatically exacerbated by the impact of current events and the Trump administration’s corrupt and immoral policies. Our failure to acknowledge this trauma, let alone root it out, has allowed it to metastasize. Whether it manifests itself in rising levels of rage and hatred, or hopelessness and apathy, the stress of living in a country we no longer recognize has affected all of us. America is suffering from PTSD—a new leader alone cannot fix us.

An enormous amount of healing must be done to rebuild our faith in leadership, and our hope for this nation. It starts with The Reckoning.

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As I delved into The Reckoning, I think I was expecting more about our personal experiences living under the rule of a fascist narcissistic president, someone who put all of us at risk and did nothing to mitigate the crises he created.

And there was some of that in this book.  But it was also interesting to see the context that brought this country to where it is, beginning back at the very start of it all, with slavery and the cruelty enacted on black slaves.  The act of “freeing the slaves” was only the beginning, after all.  What reparations had there been?

I like this quote: “At almost every step of the way in our history, there were opportunities to make this country more democratic, more open, and more equitable.  Instead, the North became more segregated and the South continued to be a closed fascist state.  The political will to do the right thing was lacking, and one could argue that a scaffolding upon which a fully democratic society could be sustained had not yet been built.

“By the same token, between the 2020 election and the inauguration seventy-eight days later, the Republican Party and its leadership were presented with many off-ramps (as they had been as soon as Donald announced his candidacy in  2015) that would have prevented or at least mitigated the damage Donald, as lame duck, was able to cause…”

The failure to counter or condemn The Big Lie could have gone a long way toward repairing the damage.  But that didn’t happen.  And we are left with the PTSD of it all, as a country.

There was much to devour throughout this book in not that many pages, but it was meaty and presents many challenges to all of us.  A 5 star read..#2021ReadNonFic

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