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: HOW TO WALK AWAY, BY KATHERINE CENTER

 

Margaret Jacobsen is just about to step into the bright future she’s worked for so hard and so long: a new dream job, a fiancé she adores, and the promise of a picture-perfect life just around the corner. Then, suddenly, on what should have been one of the happiest days of her life, everything she worked for is taken away in a brief, tumultuous moment.

In the hospital and forced to face the possibility that nothing will ever be the same again, Maggie must confront the unthinkable. First there is her fiancé, Chip, who wallows in self-pity while simultaneously expecting to be forgiven. Then, there’s her sister Kit, who shows up after pulling a three-year vanishing act. Finally, there’s Ian, her physical therapist, the one the nurses said was too tough for her. Ian, who won’t let her give in to her pity, and who sees her like no one has seen her before. Sometimes the last thing you want is the one thing you need. Sometimes we all need someone to catch us when we fall. And sometimes love can find us in the least likely place we would ever expect.

 

My Thoughts: A captivating tale of a tragedy that changes everything in a life, and leads our MC to a realization that the people who should have stood by are wallowing in their own self-pity. When I stopped feeling angry on her behalf, I settled down to watch how she struggled to move forward, and then began to truly connect with herself and who she could become.

Will Margaret come to realize that the life she wanted was not at all what she needed? Can she discover new ways to find strength and confidence?

How To Walk Away kept me glued to the pages, loving the unexpected moments and hating a few of the characters.

Margaret’s mother, Linda, was one of those annoying characters, full of bossy suggestions that turned out to be her way of controlling the uncontrollable. Over time, she was able to find another way to overcome the need to control everything.

I liked how Ian, the physical therapist who seemed so frustrating at first, turned out to be the most inspirational character of all. But then…just when we are rooting for something specific to happen, we realize that it probably won’t. Until we are surprised by the unexpected.

Margaret’s sister Kit had disappeared three years ago after a major fight with their mother. Unpacking those events would bring eye-opening changes to the family.

Could one create a mosaic out of a life that has been shattered? By moving forward and not looking back, one can put together something hopeful out of courageous moments…these are the inspirational themes I took away from this captivating book. 5 stars.***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: ALL THE MISSING GIRLS, BY MEGAN MIRANDA

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Nicolette Farrell had been living in Philadelphia for years, having escaped her childhood home and all that she would like to forget. Cooley Ridge, North Carolina, was a place of secrets and lies, and now…two missing girls. Corinne Prescott, ten years ago, and the latest, Annaliese Carter.

Nic’s fiancé Everett, a lawyer, has been in her life for a year…and sometimes, she acknowledges to herself that they don’t really know each other, not deep down. But is he part of her escape plan? Her way of putting the past to rest?

So why is she headed back now, after all this time? She has occasionally gone back to visit, like a year ago when she and her brother Daniel moved their dad to a facility. His mind wanders and he seems to be failing.

They want to fix up the house and sell it, needing the money.

All the Missing Girls brings to life the town, its secrets, and those who would love to keep everything buried. But who are the guilty ones? Daniel, Tyler, Jackson…all persons of interest. They all had some kind of interactions with the girls…and they all are acting a little off.

The story moves backwards, starting at Day Fifteen, and by the time we arrive at the night Annaliese went missing, we are putting the pieces together. Stunning pieces that will reveal what happened to Annaliese…and to Corinne.

Could any of them move on, putting the past behind them? Could the secrets remain buried?

I loved this story and couldn’t put the book down. The writing style very successfully kept me guessing until the very end, rooting for Nic, Daniel, and Tyler…and realizing that sometimes, the truth needs to stay hidden. 5 stars.

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

REVIEW: MULTIPLE LISTINGS, BY TRACY MCMILLAN

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Nicki Daniels, a single mother to 16-year-old Cody, has her life together in some major ways. Except for her relationships with men. Her current boyfriend, Jake, is eleven years younger, and even she knows that it won’t be long until it’s over. Because she keeps picking the wrong kind of guy.

Could her “daddy issues” have something to do with those choices? Her father, Ronnie, has been in and out of prison most of her life, with his last stint being seventeen years. Abandonment is definitely one of her emotional issues.

But life is about to change for them all: Ronnie is being paroled, and is on his way to Nicki’s house.

 
Before everything can get better, though, there will be a lot to sort through.

Multiple Listings is not what I expected. Yes, there is the real estate angle, since Nicki has a business as an appraiser. Plus, she loves going to Open Houses, and is in escrow for a big, beautiful dream house. But our story is mostly about making changes, learning how to deal with issues and relationships, and starting over. Our alternate narrators, Nicki and Ronnie, show us what is going on in their interior lives, and just when I think I am very annoyed with one of them, the other takes over, and we get to see another view of things.

Peaches is Nicki’s best friend, and she is another very annoying character who is blunt, abrasive, and makes a lot of mistakes. But instead of being remorseful, she acts judgmental with Nicki, as if she has all the answers. What will happen to change her attitude and behavior?

Then there is Melissa, the parole officer, who is totally unfit for her job, crossing all kinds of boundaries, but not accepting responsibility for her part in anything that happens. Until something brings her up short.

A novel full of realistic characters, set in the gorgeous Portland area, I felt myself completely immersed in this story until the very last page. Not predictable, although there were familiar moments that reminded me of life itself. 4.5 stars.

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

REVIEW: DRIVING LESSONS, BY ZOE FISHMAN

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When Josh and Sarah Simon decide to pack up and leave Brooklyn and their Manhattan jobs, Sarah feels a slight tinge of anxiety. After all, what does she know about life in the country? They are moving to Farmwood, Virginia, where Josh will be a professor in a small college. And Sarah will be at loose ends, not even sure what her future holds.

Additionally, Sarah hasn’t driven a car in many years. There really wasn’t a need for it in Manhattan. Her anxiety increases as she ponders the possibility of it, and how it will be necessary in her new life.

She is also anxious because she and Josh are contemplating having a child.

Are Sarah’s fears about driving, about her future, and about parenthood all part of the same thing? Is it all a huge fear of the chasm that has opened up, making her life a quandary?

Right off the bat, though, Sarah signs up for driving lessons…and then, she also takes a job as a salesperson in a kitschy store. What is that all about?

But before Sarah can truly analyze these events, she gets a call from her best friend Mona in NY…and everything turns upside down. Soon she is off to NY to help her best friend through a medical crisis. And while she is at it, perhaps she can sort through some of her own anxieties.

Driving Lessons: A Novel (P.S.) is a delightful book about a woman on the cusp of major life changes, and while she is anxious, she also has the opportunity to sort things out. I enjoyed the dialogue, the characters, and the “feel good” aura about it all. Despite its predictability, it is a perfect read for those who enjoy women’s issues and are seeking a comfort read. 4.0 stars.

REVIEW: THE RUNAWAY WIFE, BY ROWAN COLEMAN

71wmFcYDVWL._SL1400_In the middle of a dark and rainy night, Rose Pritchard and her seven-year-old daughter Maddie arrive at a B & B in Millthwaite, a small village that has special meaning for Rose.

Seven years ago, a man named Frasier McCleod had come to her home in Broadstairs, in Kent, in search of a painting by an artist he hoped to meet: a painting called Dearest Rose. Realizing that the man is looking for her father, John Jacobs, who abandoned her and her mother when she was just nine years old, Rose immediately feels a special connection to Frasier. And when he sends her a postcard a little while later, she clings to the memory and builds up a fantasy love interest. Someone to rescue her.

For Rose’s marriage to Dr. Richard Pritchard, beloved by all who know him in their community, is a nightmare of abuse, mostly emotional, but escalating to more brutal abuse in recent years. After one night when the abuse crosses a line, Rose flees with Maddie, heading straight to the one place where she might connect again with Frasier.

Rose begins to feel at home in this small village, and surprisingly, discovers that her father is also living there. Reuniting with him and introducing him to Maddie brings a feeling of new beginnings to her life. But will Rose and her father be able to make up for the years they lost? Can she forgive him for how he walked away? And what unexpected tragedies lie just ahead?

As for Richard, will Rose really stay away from him, since he has managed to control her so many times before? And hovering overhead throughout, as Rose gradually learns to redefine herself, is the knowledge that Richard will eventually find her. Will Rose discover that her growing strength is reinforced by the new community and family she has created? And will she find love again, or will she revert to poor choices?

The Runaway Wife delves into issues of domestic abuse, abandonment, and the creative spirit. The characters, especially Rose and Maddie, were well-developed and mostly likeable. An unforgettable story. 4.0 stars.

ONE WOMAN’S EPIPHANY: A JOURNEY — BOOK REVIEW

81h96wecX8L._SL1500_After thirty years of marriage to Wesley, Leslie Carter has reached an epiphany. Is she the only original wife in their social set? When she looks around, she sees the changing landscape of marriage for those she knows…and must take another look at her life. The Last Original Wife: A Novel is the story of her journey.

Does she want to keep waiting on a husband who doesn’t appreciate or love her in the way she needs? What does her life mean when it’s all about Wes and his needs? What about hers? And is she obsolete in the world where she has lived for so long? And then she discovers a closely guarded secret of Wes’s about how much money they really have…a lot! And everything changes.

Les takes a trip to Charleston to stay with her brother Harlan—whom Wes has banned from their home during the marriage because he is gay—and as she settles into the comfortable world of the lowcountry, which is truly her home, she begins to see things more clearly.

I was immediately drawn into the story of Les and Wes, narrated alternately between the two of them in their first person voices. I could see how their marriage had started as a traditional union and stayed that way, with no adjustments to the changing world around them. I have known men like Wes, puzzled that their wives want something different. And I’ve been like Leslie, striving to find her own way.

A favorite part of the story for me was how I could visualize Charleston through Leslie’s eyes and fell in love with everything about it. I’ve never been there…but have read other books set there. And nothing feels more like home than a city described by someone who loves it.

Leslie’s friends were like people I’ve known and enjoyed through the years, and watching their lives unfold felt like walking alongside them. My first experience with this author will not be my last. This delightful book earned five stars.