Island Apart by Steven Raichlen

Title:  Island Apart

Author:  Steven Raichlen

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – Forge Books

Audiobook: narrated by Susan Boyce – AudioGO

6 CDs – 6hrs 38min

Synopsis:  Claire Doheney, recovering from a serious illness, agrees to house-sit in an oceanfront mansion on Chappaquiddick island in Martha’s Vineyard. The New York book editor hopes to find solace, strength, and sufficient calm to finish her biography of the iconoclastic psychotherapist, Wilhelm Reich.

The last thing she expects to find is love.  

Then she meets a mysterious man the locals call the Hermit. No one knows his real name or where he lives. To their mutual surprise, Claire and the stranger discover that they share a passion for cooking that soon sparks something more.

But Claire’s new friend has a terrible secret that threatens to drive them apart forever. The clock is ticking. Can Claire let love into her life once more before it’s too late?

My take:  Island Apart is what I like to call an addictive read (or in my case, listen). I listened to the audiobook in one day.  It’s the story of two lost souls. One, the hermit, has isolated himself after going through a horrific personal event. The other, Claire, is going through cancer treatment and a divorce from the man who left the day she told him of her diagnosis. She’s staying at the home of dear friends on Chappaquiddick. When their paths cross the hermit and Claire begin an unlikely friendship. Very quickly they find a shared love of food and cooking. They leave gifts of food for each other before they start to see each other in person. A bond of mutual respect is formed and soon grows to acceptance and love even after an obstacle or two appear.

This novel had an almost fairytale-like quality. The theme that no man is an island runs throughout. It’s filled with minor characters and story lines that I’m not certain were absolutely necessary but I also don’t feel they took away from the main story.

All-in-all, I enjoyed spending a day listening to Island Apart. Warning: There are a lot of food descriptions so don’t be surprised if you feel hungry while reading.

Susan Boyce’s narration is straight-forward – meaning, in my opinion, she read the book as opposed to performed it. In this case that approach worked for me. I didn’t need the various characters distinctly voiced. I just wanted to see where the story was going – and she made that happen.

Goodreads rating

Disclosure:  I received an audiobook review copy from AudioGO via Audiobook Jukebox. I was not compensated for my review.

Beach Colors by Shelley Noble

Title:  Beach Colors

Author:  Shelley Noble

Genre:  Women’s Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – William Morrow

My take:  With nowhere else to go, Margaux Sullivan returns to her family summer home at the shore at Crescent Cove, CT. She’s lost everything to her snake of a husband – their NYC apartment; her successful fashion design business; the bank accounts; their marriage.
As she tries to figure out how to move forward she reconnects with people from her past – people she grew up with during the summers. One in particular is Nick Prescott. Although she doesn’t recall knowing him as a girl he remembers everything about her – at least what he knew from afar as he never spoke to her back then. There’s a world of difference when one is 14 and the other 18 and when one is a summer person and the other a townie. But now, both in their 30s, he’d like to really get to know her.
Nick is the polar opposite of Margaux’s ex. He gave up his dream job of history professor to come home and take care of his mom and nephew. Nick feels responsible for what happened to his brother so he does the upstanding thing where his family is concerned. Margaux has no intention of starting a relationship but she finds Nick irresistible on a few levels. Her main focus though is finding her love of design again and making her mark with a new clothing line. But will she find happiness and contentment if the NY fashion scene takes notice?
There are several characters dealing with issues in Beach Colors. I can see that this could be the start of a series. I wonder… Anyway, I enjoyed them all. Seriously, Linda the hairstylist (and a recent NYC transplant) was a hoot as well as a godsend to the women of Crescent Cove! I would definitely like to read more about the secondary characters in future books.
My one quibble with the book is the abrupt ending. I wanted to see it play out a little more. But, overall, I really liked Beach Colors and recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about women reinventing themselves. It’s a very fast read and would be a good choice to take along on vacation.

Disclosure:  I received a review copy from the publisher via LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I was not compensated for my review.

The Unfinished Garden by Barbara Claypole White

Title:  The Unfinished Garden

Author:  Barbara Claypole White

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  August 2012 – Harlequin/MIRA

Synopsis:  James Nealy needs to create a garden…

James Nealy is haunted by irrational fears and inescapable compulsions. A successful software developer, he’s thrown himself into a new goal—to finally conquer the noise in his mind. And he has a plan. He’ll confront his darkest fears and build something beautiful: a garden. When he meets Tilly Silverberg, he knows she holds the key…even if she doesn’t think so.

After her husband’s death, gardening became Tilly’s livelihood and her salvation. Her thriving North Carolina business and her young son, Isaac, are the excuses she needs to hide from the world. So when oddly attractive, incredibly tenacious James demands that she take him on as a client, her answer is a flat no.

When a family emergency lures Tilly back to England, she’s secretly glad. With Isaac in tow, she retreats to her childhood village, which has always stayed obligingly the same. Until now. Her best friend is keeping secrets. Her mother is plotting. Her first love is unexpectedly, temptingly available. And then James appears on her doorstep.

Away from home, James and Tilly forge an unlikely bond, tenuous at first but taking root every day. And as they work to build a garden together, something begins to blossom between them—despite all the reasons
against it.  

My take:  I think what I liked most about this book is James. He has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – something I don’t recall being an aspect of any novel I’ve read previously. Although I don’t have first-hand knowledge of OCD it seemed to me that Barbara Claypole White does. She created a compelling hero in James. As I said, I really liked him! And I liked that Tilly wasn’t put off by him even when she wasn’t going to take him on as a client. But she didn’t close him out when, given her situation, it would have been perfectly understandable. As it turns out, the two really brought out the best in each other. They were forthcoming and compassionate at the same time – bonding traits, I’d say. Strong characters.

When the story moves from the US to England we really get to see a relationship grow between the two. Using humor and drama the author really brought home the point that when we face our fears (preferably with a friend or two) we can meet a challenge and possibly overcome it.

The Unfinished Garden is Barbara Claypole White’s debut novel. I enjoyed it and will be very interested to see what story she’ll tell in her second book.

Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. I was not compensated for my review.

The Exceptions by David Cristofano

Title:  The Exceptions

Author:  David Cristofano

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  August 2012 – Grand Central Publishing

Hardcover: 480 pages

Synopsis:  No loose ends. It’s the Bovaro family motto. As part of the Bovaro clan, one of the most powerful and respected families in organized crime, Jonathan knows what he must do: take out Melody Grace McCartney, the woman whose testimony can lock up his father and disgrace his entire family. The only problem: he can’t bring himself to do it.

Had Jonathan kept his silence, Melody and her parents would never have been identified and lured into the Witness Protection Program, able to run but never to hide. So he keeps her safe the only way he knows how-by vowing to clean up his own mess while acting as her shield.

But as he watches her take on another new identity in yet another new town, becoming a beautiful but broken woman, Jonathan can’t get her out of his mind . . . or his heart. From the streets of Little Italy to a refuge that promises a fresh start, Jonathan will be forced to choose between the life he’s always known, the destiny his family has carved out for him, and a future unlike anything he’s ever imagined.

My take:  I read David Cristofano’s first novel, The Girl She Used to Be, a few years ago. When I finished reading it my hope was that there would someday be a sequel. I really liked Melody Grace McCartney’s story.

Well, Cristofano followed his debut with a sequel of sorts – it’s Jonathan Bovaro’s version of Melody’s story. The same story as seen through Jonathan’s eyes.

Cristofano paced The Exceptions just as he did TGSUTB – which means I didn’t want to stop reading. Maybe it’s because a few years have passed since I read the original story but, even though I knew the plot, I found it compelling, gripping, and thrilling. Seriously, my heart was pounding several times while reading. I don’t read many thrillers but when I do, I want them to make me feel the way I did reading this book.

I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot than the synopsis has. If you loved the first novel I think you’ll love The Exceptions. If you haven’t read The Girl She Used to Be, maybe read that first.

Disclosure:  I received a review galley from the publisher via NetGalley. See sidebar for disclosure policy.

Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas

Title:  Rainshadow Road

Series: Friday Harbor #2

Author:  Lisa Kleypas

Genre:  Contemporary Romance

Published:  February 2012 – St. Martin’s Griffin

Synopsis:  (from the back of the book) Lucy Marinn is a glass artist living in mystical, beautiful Friday Harbor, Washington, with a boyfriend, Kevin, who she believes is her soul mate. She has always had a magical side – a gift that finds its way into the breathtaking glasswork she creates – and she struggles to keep it contained. But when Lucy is blindsided by the most bitter kind of betrayal, she questions many of her choices. . . Lucy’s bitterness over this devastation is multiplied by the fact that she has constantly made the wrong choices in her romantic life.  As Lucy questions her beliefs about love, loyalty, old patterns, mistakes, and new beginnings, she explores the possibility that some things in life – even after being broken – can be re-made into something beautiful. And that it is only by discovering who you really are that you can find the one who truly deserves you.

My take:  Book two in the Friday Harbor series is the story of Lucy and Sam. Both have trust/commitment issues. Sam because of the way his alcoholic parents raised him; Lucy because of a betrayal by a family member and because of the way her parents treated her so differently than her sister when they were young. It’s the betrayal that brings Sam and Lucy together.
I liked Sam and Lucy’s story but at times I just wanted to urge Sam to get therapy and move forward.  Also, as described in the synopsis, there’s a magical realism aspect to the story. It’s not at the forefront but I found it an intriguing connection between Lucy and Sam.
Ultimately, Lisa Kleypas does what she does so well, she had me cheering for Lucy and Sam (even though I knew the HEA would be there I wasn’t sure how) and I was happy with the ending.
I look forward to the next book in the Friday Harbor series.

Disclosure:  I received this book from the publisher via Goodreads First Reads program. I was not compensated for my review.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Title:  Beautiful Ruins

Author:  Jess Walter

Narrator:  Edoardo Ballerini

Genre:  Fiction

Published:  June 2012 – HarperCollins

Synopsis (from the back of the ARC):  The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a slender blonde woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot – searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.

What unfolds from there is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, teeming with Jess Walter’s trademark unforgettable characters: the Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically cynical film producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; and the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. . .

My brief take:  I enjoyed Beautiful Ruins so much I knew it would be on my 2012 Favorites list as soon as I finished reading it.  You get a sense of the novel from the synopsis but really it must be experienced. I loved how Jess Walter wove the various characters’ stories together. I wasn’t sure where they would all end up but I had faith I’d be satisfied with the conclusion. I was.

I’m so glad I decided to listen to Beautiful Ruins (I also read a print review copy) . There’s no way I could have voiced the characters’ accents, language, etc. in my mind anywhere close to the narrator. Edoardo Ballerini’s performance is perfect.

Recommend?  Yes! Read the book and if you enjoy listening, I highly recommend the audiobook.

Note:  I appreciated the Author Q&A included at the end of the audiobook.

Disclosure:  My review copy was from the publisher. I bought the audiobook. See sidebar for disclosure statement. I was not compensated for my review.