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.

REVIEW: PARIS EVER AFTER, BY K.S.R. BURNS

 

Can Amy’s rocky start in Paris turn into a happy ever after? Amy didn’t realize how stale her life was until she jetted off to Paris without telling a soul—not even her husband—and had the adventure of a lifetime. Now as she tries to establish herself in the City of Light, she finds that despite a fun (and quirky) group of friends and the ability to indulge in French pastries whenever she wants, reinventing her life is much harder than she imagined.

Then on Amy’s thirtieth birthday, two unexpected visitors leave her wondering if she will soon be saying au revoir to Paris and the new life she’s struggled to build. Her estranged husband, Will, shows up—but is he interested in reconciliation or separation? And a young woman who arrives on Amy’s doorstep unleashes chaos that could push Amy out into the street.

As Amy’s Parisian dream starts to fall apart, she must decide: return to the stability of Will and Phoenix (if that’s even still an option) or forge her way forward in Paris? Amid secrets and surprises, set in enchanting gardens, cozy cafés, and glittering Parisian streets, Amy must choose between two very different worlds. And each has a claim on her heart.

My Thoughts: In our first look at Amy Brodie in Paris Ever After, she is still reeling from the death of her best friend Kat. The death that sent her flying off to Paris on a trip that she and Kat had planned, but was derailed by her death. But then, after just a few weeks, Amy returned to Phoenix…to a bitter fight with William that catapulted her back to Paris. On her second day, she meets an older woman named Margaret, who offers a room, and in a short time she begins to feel at home.

Her life is now full of beautiful café lunches; soirees at Margaret’s, with her two friends Herve and Nanu; and a new pregnancy with baby daughter Catherine. Just before she left Phoenix that last time, William gave her a parting gift. He does not know, however, and now she faces a dilemma.

Can she share her news with him and see if there is anything left of the marriage? What will her future hold: Paris or Phoenix?

A lovely book full of scenes that I loved, some characters that were wonderful, and others that were not. Secrets come out and an unexpected reunion between Margaret and someone she thought she had lost would upend Amy’s plans. Where will she belong now? As the story drew to an end, I was hoping for a sequel so that I could spend more time with these characters. 5 stars.


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

REVIEW: MAP OF THE HEART, BY SUSAN WIGGS

 

Widowed by an unspeakable tragedy, Camille Palmer has made her peace with the past and settled into the quiet safety of life with her teenage daughter Julie in a sleepy coastal town. Then the arrival of a mysterious package breaks open the door to her family’s secret past. In uncovering a hidden history, Camille has no idea that she’s embarking on an adventure that will utterly transform her. 

Camille, Julie, and Camille’s father return to the French town of his youth, sparking unexpected memories — recollections that will lead them back to the dark days of the Second World War. And it is in the stunning Provençal countryside that they will uncover their family’s surprising history.  

While Provence offers answers about the past, it also holds the key to Camille’s future. Along the way, she meets a former naval officer who stirs a passion deep within her — a feeling that she thought she’d never experience again.


My Thoughts: A beautiful family drama with dual time lines, Map of the Heart grabbed me from the very beginning.

In the present, Camille is struggling, but also immersed in her business in which she restores old photos. Her days of photographing the world around her, however, died along with her husband.

In the project that sets her on a new path, she connects with Malcolm (Finn) Finnemore; an unfortunate accident in the dark room and a family emergency almost upend their professional relationship, but events have a way of turning around.

What is going on with teenager Julie, who seems to have lost all of her friends? Why are unpleasant happenings keeping her holed up in her room, gaining weight and sullying her once adventurous spirit? Can a trip to Provence for the summer change everything, for both Julie and Camille?

I loved the characters, and so many historical and contemporary layers kept me digging for the treasures that would reveal a lovely story and uncover secrets from the past. By the conclusion, I was in tears, rooting for them all. 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: THE LAKE HOUSE, BY KATE MORTON

51xugkz4cXL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

 

 

In beautiful Cornwall, Eleanor and Anthony Edevane live an idyllic life in a home they call Loenneth (Lake House). They met, fell in love, had one daughter, Deborah, and then Anthony went off to war. Eleanor got pregnant with Alice when he came home on leave. And after his return, two more children were born: Clementine and Theo.

All seemed lovely, and then came the Midsummer’s Eve party…a gorgeous event that seemed to signify all that was good. Until it wasn’t. That night, little Theo went missing.

The case went cold with no results. Seventy years later, Alice, in her eighties, is a best-selling mystery writer and living alone. She has held secrets close to her heart. But then she discovers that Deborah also has some secrets. Everything changes then.

Meanwhile, a young detective, Sadie Sparrow, is on leave from the police force after bad publicity from one of her cases, visiting her grandfather Bertie in Cornwall…and she stumbles upon the crumbling estate. Of course she has to investigate, and what she finds will change everything for her.

The Lake House is one of those rambling tales that moves back and forth, slowly filling in the blanks and giving us the intriguing details of the characters’ lives. The characters were each fascinating, and even those who seemed unlikeable at first glance became sympathetic, the more we know. As each character was introduced, from Constance to her daughter Eleanor and son-in-law Anthony, and then to Ben Munro, the gardener at Loenneth, we start to put the pieces together that form a cohesive story rich in details.

The house itself is like a character, with its own stories to tell. From the lush rooms to the secret tunnel, with the verdant gardens spreading around it, one can imagine only happiness within its walls. But sadness comes…and the house falls into disrepair. It would take decades before happiness returns. A lovely story that was impossible to put down, this one earned five stars!

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

REVIEW: DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY, BY BILL CLEGG

24452249

 

In a small Connecticut town, several individuals are caught up in a tragedy that ultimately links them, and through the pages, the author takes us into the lives of some of these individuals, revealing past and present choices, and leading us to a place of understanding just what happened that day.

It happens the night before the wedding between June’s daughter Lolly and her fiancé Will. At a time when everyone has gathered to celebrate, the explosion kills everyone but June.

The multiple narrators are somehow connected to those who were killed, and separate chapters are devoted to each of them, sometimes in first person and other times, third person. Each narrator has been somehow scarred by events, both before and after the tragedy. Some have been living outside societal norms, clinging to what sets them apart, as if the familiar roles they have fallen into are too comfortable to change. What truths have kept each of them outsiders? Who are they? There is Lydia, whose son Luke was also killed, but is somehow blamed for the tragedy. And then there is June, who was Luke’s older lover, dubbed a cougar by the townsfolk. And then there are Rebecca and Kelly, who live in Moclips, Washington, as far from events as could be, but somehow they are connected to what happened by virtue of offering refuge to one of them.

How did June escape the tragedy, walking away without an identification, to find that refuge? Why did the small town folk believe only the worst about Luke and Lydia? And even though she was from a more polished life, why did they also seem to shun June?

Did You Ever Have A Family could be a poignant view of small town life, with all of its flaws and foibles, reminding us that sometimes the people we choose to dismiss are more like us than not, and that understanding goes a long way toward forgiveness.

The characters’ stories were intimate and insightful. Even though I struggled at times to make the connections between the numerous characters, by the end I could see a clear picture forming. 4 stars.

REVIEW: MY DEAREST FRIEND, BY NANCY THAYER

81j5-RiAClL._SL1500_

 

 

Daphne Miller is suffering the many losses of her life, beginning with the divorce years before and complicated by the recent loss of her 16-year-old daughter, Cynthia, who decided to go live with her father in California. The same father who did not even bother to keep in touch for the fourteen years since the divorce.

Yes, the teenage years with her daughter had been difficult and challenging, but she’d never believed that Cynthia would betray her this way.

She moved to a small cottage in Plover, Vermont, less expensive than anything she could find in Westhampton, MA, where she works as a secretary for the university.

That is another loss that leaves a bitter taste…she had given up her own dreams of finishing her Ph.D., to support the family until her husband Joe’s career was secure. And with the divorce, she lost the family home.

Now that her new life offers her the opportunity to start over, she has made a new friend, Jack Hamilton, a young professor who lives in the A-frame down the hill with his wife Carey Ann and their toddler Alexandra. She enjoys talking to him, and he seems to seek her out as well.

Could more happen between them? Daphne has fought this, because she has been on the receiving end of betrayal, when her husband Joe had an affair all those years ago.

Weaving back and forth across time, we learn more about what happened between Joe and Daphne, and why the betrayal felt especially painful, and we see how the ordinary day in and day out hassles led to the erosion of the marriage.

My Dearest Friend unfolds to reveal characters who remind me of people I have known, and the situations in which they find themselves are all too familiar as well. I liked how vividly each character was portrayed, from the spoiled and petulant Carey Ann and her inability to see how allowing her toddler to control the lives of those around her was harming her, to Daphne’s manipulative best friend Laura, from back in the day, whose machinations were so well hidden that nobody could see them coming. And let us not overlook Hudson Jennings, head of the English department, who has had feelings for Daphne for years, but cannot leave his ill wife. Then there are the histrionics of teenaged Cynthia, whose behavior was very reminiscent of many girls her age that I’ve known. I felt as though I was part of the community that surrounded the characters, and connected with them emotionally.

Set some time in the 1980s, the absence of current day technology and devices made the story feel very nostalgic for me. And the fact that it was actually written during this time period made it all even more realistic. There were no cell phones and not that many answering machines. People could ignore the phone! Bliss…

Themes of choice, morality, guilt, and regret kept the story grounded in reality, and one that I will think of often. 4.5 stars.

REVIEW: THE OPPOSITE OF MAYBE, BY MADDIE DAWSON

71rjsiR5s0L._SL1500_

 

 

 

In their circle of friends, Jonathan and Rosie have become the quirky couple that has stayed together for fifteen years without changing their lifestyle. Rosie teaches, while Jonathan collects antiques, like the teacups that are his latest obsession.

So when Jonathan joins forces with a man named Andres, who is planning to start up a museum in San Diego, CA, Jonathan doesn’t think twice about signing on.

But Rosie is not so eager to leave Connecticut, most especially since her eighty-eight-year-old grandmother, Sophie (Soapie), will be left behind.

But the two of them plan to marry and leave together, after Rosie arranges for a caregiver.

Despite the best laid plans, something happens to Rosie in the midst of moving things, and she sends Jonathan on his way, while she stays behind with Soapie. They have cancelled the wedding and she decides she needs a break from her life with Jonathan.

After all, Soapie has been her constant in life, after her mother Serena died.

Then Rose, who is forty-four, discovers that she is pregnant, and a whole host of issues present themselves, not to mention the hormones.

And then there is the little matter of her growing friendship with Tony, the “care provider” and friend, who is not at all queasy about pregnancy or kids. Something Jonathan has failed at again, when she tells him the news.

The Opposite of Maybe: A Novel was a quick read that engaged me from the beginning. There were lots of emotional, as well as funny moments. I enjoyed the relationship between Rosie and Tony, even if I didn’t know how that was all going to work out. Jonathan was annoying in many ways, and as some described him, “limited.”

He reminded me of someone totally tuned into his own needs, socially inept, and obsessive to the nth degree. I was not rooting for Rosie and Jonathan to reunite.

But there were surprises along the way, and even while I had my private hopes, I wasn’t quite sure how it would all turn out. In the end, I was pleased. 5 stars.

REVIEW: AND THEN I FOUND YOU, BY PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY

91JHT-VT6VL._SL1500_Kate Vaughn and Jack Adams have loved each other for as long as they can remember. But life, college, jobs…all kinds of things seemed to get in the way. Separate them.

Then one week together in Birmingham would change everything about their lives. But would it bring them together? Or separate them?

And Then I Found You: A Novel is a wonderfully layered story of the choices we make, the events that keep us apart, and how we sometimes can find our way back to each other. But even though we can’t change the past, can we pick up the pieces and begin again? Can we embrace and accept it, despite the pain that lingers?

The author has created wonderful characters I could root for and situations that resonate with me. I loved the settings, feeling as though I were walking along with the characters. While I had my own wishes for them all, I hung in there to find out what the characters would choose to do, and what their hopes and dreams would bring. In the end, the story left me with a wonderful feeling of satisfaction. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THIS DARK ROAD TO MERCY, BY WILEY CASH

17349104

 

 

A heart-warming story of family, loss, and broken connections, This Dark Road to Mercy: A Novel held my attention to the very end.

Easter, aged 12, and Ruby, 6, are two girls who find themselves in foster care after their mother’s death. Their father, Wade Chesterfield, an ex-minor league baseball player, relinquished his parental rights years before. So when he shows up at a school softball game, and strikes up a conversation with Easter, he inadvertently sets up a domino effect that will lead him, the girls, and some nefarious people on a trail leading to potential disaster.

How does an armored car heist figure into the story? What will Brady Weller, the girls’ court-appointed guardian, do when he realizes that Wade has taken the girls in the middle of the night? How will all of those trailing them find themselves in St. Louis at a baseball game?

The story begins in Gastonia, North Carolina, and travels to Charleston, SC, before heading to St. Louis. Along the way, some broken connections will be healed. Not only is Wade in search of a second chance with his daughters, but Brady Weller is trying to redeem himself after some mistakes of his own.

Will there be second chances for these characters? Narrated in alternating voices by Easter, the oldest girl; by Brady Weller; and by a character named Pruitt, this was a truly unputdownable tale that will linger in my mind for a long time. Five stars.