REVIEW: EVERYTHING WE KEEP, BY KERRY LONSDALE

A luminous debut with unexpected twists, Everything We Keep explores the devastation of loss, the euphoria of finding love again, and the pulse-racing repercussions of discovering the truth about the ones we hold dear and the lengths they will go to protect us.

Sous chef Aimee Tierney has the perfect recipe for the perfect life: marry her childhood sweetheart, raise a family, and buy out her parents’ restaurant. But when her fiancé, James Donato, vanishes in a boating accident, her well-baked future is swept out to sea. Instead of walking down the aisle on their wedding day, Aimee is at James’s funeral—a funeral that leaves her more unsettled than at peace.

As Aimee struggles to reconstruct her life, she delves deeper into James’s disappearance. What she uncovers is an ocean of secrets that make her question everything about the life they built together. And just below the surface is a truth that may set Aimee free…or shatter her forever.

 

an interior journey thoughts

 

Love and loss are the primary themes in Everything We Keep, and we are thrust into the center of Aimee’s loss when the funeral for her fiancé is held on what would have been their wedding day.

As time passes, Aimee begins to question what she thought she knew about James and his family, and as secrets begin to surface, she goes on her own quest to find the truth.

Meanwhile, a new possible love interest appears in the form of Ian who is a comfort and companion for her, especially as she starts a new life with her coffee shop.

Her exploration takes her to the last place her fiancé was living, and as she untangles the secrets and lies, she is able to begin again.

A story that was a bit predictable at times, I kept reading because I wanted to see what would happen. 4 stars.

***

REVIEW: COUNT THE WAYS, BY JOYCE MAYNARD

Eleanor and Cam meet at a crafts fair in Vermont in the early 1970s. She’s an artist and writer, he makes wooden bowls. Within four years they are parents to three children, two daughters and a red-headed son who fills his pockets with rocks, plays the violin and talks to God. To Eleanor, their New Hampshire farm provides everything she always wanted—summer nights watching Cam’s softball games, snow days by the fire and the annual tradition of making paper boats and cork people to launch in the brook every spring. If Eleanor and Cam don’t make love as often as they used to, they have something that matters more. Their family.

Then comes a terrible accident, caused by Cam’s negligence. Unable to forgive him, Eleanor is consumed by bitterness, losing herself in her life as a mother, while Cam finds solace with a new young partner.

Over the decades that follow, the five members of this fractured family make surprising discoveries and decisions that occasionally bring them together, and often tear them apart. Tracing the course of their lives—through the gender transition of one child and another’s choice to completely break with her mother—Joyce Maynard captures a family forced to confront essential, painful truths of its past, and find redemption in its darkest hours.

A story of holding on and learning to let go, Count the Ways is an achingly beautiful, poignant, and deeply compassionate novel of home, parenthood, love, and forgiveness.

an interior journey thoughts

I am a big fan of this author and couldn’t wait to dive into Count the Ways. Not only did I love it, I connected with the characters, the story, and felt so many emotions as I read. Even as the last page approached, I didn’t want it to end. And unlike some books, I couldn’t imagine saying goodbye to any of them.

Eleanor and Cam were the kind of couple you wanted to root for, but it was apparent from the beginning that there would be no happy ending for them. I didn’t like Cam for the longest time, annoyed with how he played his “fun” dad role, contributing little to the household in money or actual effort. But when tragedy struck, I also wanted Eleanor to find forgiveness so they could continue.

But since that didn’t happen, the biggest loss, in my opinion, was how he let the children see him as the victim in the tale, and this view of events continued throughout.

Our story unfolds over decades and as time passes, the ebb and flow of life itself is shown to the reader, and I felt the sorrow, pain, and joy of their lives together and apart. A brilliant family story that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: PACK UP THE MOON, BY KRISTAN HIGGINS

Joshua and Lauren are the perfect couple. Newly married, they’re wildly in love, each on a successful and rewarding career path. Then Lauren is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

As Lauren’s disease progresses, Joshua struggles to make the most of the time he has left with his wife and to come to terms with his future—a future without the only woman he’s ever loved. He’s so consumed with finding a way to avoid the inevitable ending that he never imagines his life after Lauren.

But Lauren has a plan to keep her husband moving forward. A plan hidden in the letters she leaves him. In those letters, one for every month in the year after her death, Lauren leads Joshua on a journey through pain, anger, and denial. It’s a journey that will take Joshua from his attempt at a dinner party for family and friends to getting rid of their bed…from a visit with a psychic medium to a kiss with a woman who isn’t Lauren. As his grief makes room for laughter and new relationships, Joshua learns Lauren’s most valuable lesson: The path to happiness doesn’t follow a straight line.
 
 
an interior journey thoughts

Pack up the Moon is a perfect journey of love and loss.

I enjoyed how Lauren left letters for Josh following her death, and while I thought the story would be too sad for me, I also liked that the letters and the grief journey were mixed in with tales of their love connection. Back and forth in time, we come to know this couple and love their unique story.

As Josh begins to move forward, we still catch the occasional glimpses of the life the two had together. I wanted to see more of them, and found myself smiling a lot, too, even though I had to keep a Kleenex handy for the sad moments.

As much as I enjoyed the two of them, sometimes I felt like Lauren was almost too good to be true. But the connection between the couple felt real.

An unforgettable couple with that something special we all want in our lives, this tale earned 4.5 stars from me.
 
***
 
 

REVIEW: AN ORDINARY LIFE, BY AMANDA PROWSE

 

Christmas Eve, 2019. Ninety-four-year-old Molly lies in her hospital bed. A stroke and a fall may have broken her body—but her mind is alive with memories.

London, 1940s. Molly is a bright young woman, determined to help the war effort and keep her head up despite it all. Life becomes brighter when she meets and falls in love with a man who makes her forget everything with one dance. But then war forces her to make an unforgettable sacrifice, and when she’s brought to her knees by a daring undercover mission with the French Resistance, only her sister knows the secret weighing heavily on Molly’s heart.

Now, lying in her hospital bed, Molly can’t escape the memories of what she lost all those years ago. But she is not as alone as she thinks.

Will she be able to find peace—and finally understand that what seemed to be an ordinary life was anything but?

 
 
 
 
An Ordinary Life opens on Christmas Eve, 2019, with 94-year-old Molly in hospital after a stroke and a fall. As she lies in the bed, her mind traipses back over the years and through the many memorable moments that have decorated her life.

As a teenager in the 1940s, she fell in love with a man she hoped to spend her life with, but that was not to be her destiny. A lovely treasure has come out of that love, but the war rages and leads to a choice that will change everything in ways she cannot undo.

I loved Molly’s journey through the war years and afterwards and felt a lump in my throat at the life she had lost. And for what would happen in the subsequent years. I kept hoping for peace and love for her at last…but would she find it?

I enjoyed the author’s descriptions of the settings, events, and how she brought Molly’s little cottage to life for me. A cozy place that could somehow fill in the empty places in her life.

The characters that also filled in the gaps in her life were family members, those who could substitute for some of her losses.

The book’s title “an ordinary life” might seem like a misnomer, but by the end of the tale, one could conclude that the ordinary moments were the ones to be treasured. A 5 star read.

REVIEW: RETURN TO VIRGIN RIVER, BY ROBYN CARR

Kaylee Sloan’s home in Southern California is full of wonderful memories of the woman who raised her. But the memories are prolonging her grief over her mother’s recent death. A successful author, Kaylee hoped she could pour herself into her work. Instead she has terrible writer’s block and a looming deadline.

Determined to escape distractions and avoid the holiday season, Kaylee borrows a cabin in Virgin River. She knows the isolation will help her writing, and as she drives north through the mountains and the majestic redwoods, she immediately feels inspired. Until she arrives at a building that has just gone up in flames. Devastated, she heads to Jack’s Bar to plan her next steps. The local watering hole is the heart of the town, and once she crosses the threshold, she’s surprised to be embraced by people who are more than willing to help a friend—or a stranger—in need.

Kaylee’s world is expanding in ways she never dreamed possible. And when she rescues a kitten followed by a dog with a litter of puppies, she finds her heart opening up to the animals who need her. And then there’s the dog trainer who knows exactly how to help her. As the holidays approach, Kaylee’s dread turns to wonder. Because there’s no better place to spend Christmas than Virgin River.

From the very beginning of Return to Virgin River, I felt a connection to Kaylee and her life. As she settles into Virgin River, trying to deal with her grief and push forward with the book she is writing, I was caught up in her feelings and her goals.

Meeting townsfolk helped her begin the healing process, and then connecting to Landry, who was her landlord, brought out other forgotten emotions. The possibility of love.

The author’s descriptions of the setting, the characters who lived in Virgin River, and telling their stories as they all formed a community for Kaylee brought out a sense of a real place with real people. I love Humboldt County, so I felt as if I was there with these characters, many of whom were in the previous book.

I read the book in one day, as I could not put it down. I hope to rejoin these characters again. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: MONOGAMY, BY SUE MILLER

 

Graham and Annie have been married for nearly thirty years. A golden couple, their seemingly effortless devotion has long been the envy of their circle of friends and acquaintances.

Graham is a bookseller, a big, gregarious man with large appetites—curious, eager to please, a lover of life, and the convivial host of frequent, lively parties at his and Annie’s comfortable house in Cambridge. Annie, more reserved and introspective, is a photographer. She is about to have her first gallery show after a six-year lull and is worried that the best years of her career may be behind her. They have two adult children; Lucas, Graham’s son with his first wife, Frieda, works in New York. Annie and Graham’s daughter, Sarah, lives in San Francisco. Though Frieda is an integral part of this far-flung, loving family, Annie feels confident in the knowledge that she is Graham’s last and greatest love.

When Graham suddenly dies—this man whose enormous presence has seemed to dominate their lives together—Annie is lost. What is the point of going on, she wonders, without him?

Then, while she is still mourning him intensely, she discovers that Graham had been unfaithful to her; and she spirals into darkness, wondering if she ever truly knew the man who loved her.

From the very first page of Monogamy, I was captured by the prose, the characters, and the settings, in which I could imagine myself walking along with Annie and Graham, as their story unfolds. A bookstore, a beautiful gallery of photographs, and a cottage by a lake in Vermont to which Annie retreats after Graham’s death.

The small details of a life are presented in a way that grabbed me, and I could feel the moments that had defined them. I could see Annie in her childhood, go back with them to their first meeting, and remember with Annie how they built a home and a life, while raising the children.
Reconnecting with people from the past, and reliving those poignant bonds left an indelible mark.

As Annie moves through her days and weeks, the past rises to confront her and comfort her. Can she mourn the loss without going back in time to all that defined her? As Annie struggles to move beyond the death and the discovery of the betrayal, she learns to accept it all and rediscover the love they shared. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: DON’T LOOK FOR ME, BY WENDY WALKER

One night, Molly Clarke walked away from her life.

She doesn’t want to be found.

Or at least, that’s the story.

The car abandoned miles from home.

The note found at a nearby hotel.

The shattered family that couldn’t be put back together.

They called it a “walk away.”

It happens all the time.

Women disappear, desperate to leave their lives behind and start over.

But is that what really happened to Molly Clarke?

 

 

On Day One, we see Molly Clarke driving in the rain, thinking about the sadness of her life: her losses, her remaining two children who seem to wish she weren’t there at all, and the emptiness of her marriage.

She has just left her son Evan’s game at school and watched him look away from her, dismiss her, pretend she wasn’t there.

Driving toward home, she keeps going, as if she has no destiny. And then she runs out of gas on a stretch of road. She sees a gas station 30 feet away, but as she walks toward it, she realizes it is boarded up. Empty. Like her life.

When a truck drives by with what she thinks is a man and his daughter, and they pull over, offering her a ride, she doesn’t really hesitate…

What then begins is a nightmare.

Will Molly ever go home again? The man takes her to a house instead of the police station where she wanted to go. He makes empty promises about phoning for help…and she is soon a prisoner.

Meanwhile, back home, Molly’s daughter Nicole is searching for her. She doesn’t believe that her mom just walked away, and too many pieces of the story don’t make sense.

We watch the tale unfold between Nicole and Molly, back and forth in alternating narratives.

Who is the man holding Molly hostage? Why are the police and other residents of the small town of Hastings where Molly’s car and supposed “note” were found telling tales that don’t make sense? Is it a conspiracy? Or is it even more dark and evil?

I kept trying to figure out who the players were and how they connected to Molly and Nicole, so as the answers began to come, I was breathless with anticipation. Don’t Look for Me was a brilliant 5 star read.

***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley

***

REVIEW: WATCH ME DISAPPEAR, BY JANELLE BROWN

 

It’s been a year since Billie Flanagan—a Berkeley mom with an enviable life—went on a solo hike in Desolation Wilderness and vanished from the trail. Her body was never found, just a shattered cellphone and a solitary hiking boot. Her husband and teenage daughter have been coping with Billie’s death the best they can: Jonathan drinks as he works on a loving memoir about his marriage; Olive grows remote, from both her father and her friends at the all-girls school she attends.

But then Olive starts having strange visions of her mother, still alive. Jonathan worries about Olive’s emotional stability, until he starts unearthing secrets from Billie’s past that bring into question everything he thought he understood about his wife. Who was the woman he knew as Billie Flanagan?

Together, Olive and Jonathan embark on a quest for the truth—about Billie, but also about themselves, learning, in the process, about all the ways that love can distort what we choose to see. Janelle Brown’s insights into the dynamics of intimate relationships will make you question the stories you tell yourself about the people you love, while her nervy storytelling will keep you guessing until the very last page.


In Watch Me Disappear, we follow the thoughts and actions of those left behind when Billie Flanagan “dies.” Did she die, though, or did she choose to disappear?

A year later, her beloved friends and family are still struggling with that question. Jonathan is writing a memoir of his life with Billie, but the more he digs into what he knew about her and their life together, he realizes that he has more questions than answers about Billie. Who was she really, and did he even know her at all? She has had a history of disappearing from her life, beginning when she was very young. Has she done the same thing again?

Her daughter Olive was close to Billie, but near the end, there were some troubled spots. Now Olive wants to reach her mother just one more time. When she starts seeing “visions,” she is convinced that Billie is communicating with her.

Our story weaves back and forth in time, with more revelations as the moments pass, and just when we think we know what really happened, a final twist seemingly comes out of nowhere. This book I couldn’t put down earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: WINTER IN PARADISE, BY ELIN HILDERBRAND

 

Irene Steele shares her idyllic life in a beautiful Iowa City Victorian house with a husband who loves her to sky-writing, sentimental extremes. But as she rings in the new year one cold and snowy night, everything she thought she knew falls to pieces with a shocking phone call: her beloved husband, away on business, has been killed in a plane crash. Before Irene can even process the news, she must first confront the perplexing details of her husband’s death on the distant Caribbean island of St. John.

After Irene and her sons arrive at this faraway paradise, they make yet another shocking discovery: her husband had been living a secret life. As Irene untangles a web of intrigue and deceit, and as she and her sons find themselves drawn into the vibrant island culture, they have to face the truth about their family, and about their own futures.

 

My Thoughts: As the story opens with Irene enjoying her beautiful home and her job with Heartland Home & Style magazine, a feeling of foreboding tells us that everything she holds dear will soon be put to the test.

Meanwhile, her sons Baker and Cash are being challenged in their own ways: Cash is facing reversals in his business and Baker’s marriage is on the rocks.

The phone call that changes their lives takes them on a plane to the Virgin Islands, to a place they might have loved visiting under other circumstances.

How will Irene and her sons deal with the death of their husband and father? What will they discover about the secret life he was living?

In alternating narratives, we learn more about the islanders who are now part of Irene’s story: Huck, a ship captain and stepfather to Rosie, who now has become part of their lives; Ayers Wilson, Rosie’s best friend; and Maia, the twelve-year-old girl who has lost her mother.

Set against the backdrop of the island retreat, Winter in Paradise captured my heart with the sadness, the joy of the setting, the delicious foods that tease our taste buds, and the sense of betrayal dealt by Russell, who is no longer alive to explain himself.

Just below the surface is the sense of a mystery, and as Irene reminisces about her life with Russell, she tries to piece together what signs she might have missed along the way. At the very end, however, another tidbit of information from the authorities adds a startling conclusion. Since this book is number one in a new series, I look forward to more from these characters. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: BEFORE & AGAIN, BY BARBARA DELINSKY

 

Mackenzie Cooper took her eyes off the road for just a moment but the resulting collision was enough to rob her not only of her beloved daughter but ultimately of her marriage, family, and friends—and thanks to the nonstop media coverage, even her privacy. Now she lives in Vermont under the name Maggie Reid, in a small house with her cats and dog. She’s thankful for the new friends she’s made—though she can’t risk telling them too much. And she takes satisfaction in working as a makeup artist at the luxurious local spa, helping clients hide the visible outward signs of their weariness, illnesses, and injuries. Covering up scars is a skill she has mastered.

Her only goal is to stay under the radar and make it through her remaining probation. But she isn’t the only one in this peaceful town with secrets. When a friend’s teenage son is thrust into the national spotlight, accused of hacking a powerful man’s Twitter account, Maggie is torn between pulling away and protecting herself—or stepping into the glare to be at their side. As the stunning truth behind their case is slowly revealed, Maggie’s own carefully constructed story begins to unravel as well. She knows all too well that what we need from each other in this difficult world is comfort. But to provide it, sometimes we need to travel far outside our comfort zones.

 

My Thoughts: An emotional tale of family, loss, and starting over, Before and Again captured me from the very first pages.

Maggie, our protagonist, reveals much about what her new life looks like through her first person narrative, but it also gives us glimpses of what she has lost.

How will she deal with the newest scandal in her adopted town? Can she stay under the radar, or will her own back story burst through her carefully constructed mask? As each piece of her past pushes its way through, she gradually begins to realize that sometimes one has to accept the past and all of its pain in order to truly start over.

I loved the setting of her new life, and could feel the warmth and coziness she had created. I also began to realize, along with Maggie, that parts of the past could be woven into the new canvas she has drawn. As we watch the drama unfold, we realize that the life we had before can be remembered with a sense of healing, and when we begin again, we can bring forward the lessons we have learned. A beautiful story that earned 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.