The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer

  • the guest cottage (5:12) ballantineTitle:  The Guest Cottage
  • Author:  Nancy Thayer
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  May 2015 – Ballantine Books
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  When Sophie Anderson discovers her husband of sixteen years plans to ask for a divorce she takes up a friend’s offer for her and the two kids to rent a rambling Nantucket cottage for the summer. So she’s completely caught off guard when Trevor Black and his young son arrive at the same time to rent the same cottage. They decide to make the best of the situation and the two families form an unexpected bond. The Guest Cottage is a perfect beach book. It’s about family and love (on a few levels), finding new freedom and moving forward. Nancy Thayer’s descriptive prose made me feel like I was relaxing on one of the Nantucket beaches enjoying a wonderful holiday. Toss this book in the beach bag this summer. You’ll be glad you did!

Second Chance Friends by Jennifer Scott

  • second chance friends (5:5 NAL)Title:  Second Chance Friends: A novel
  • Author:  Jennifer Scott
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  May 5, 2015 – NAL Accent
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  On an early September morning four women witness or are part of a terrible traffic accident. That experience brings together the women whose paths otherwise would not have crossed.

Each woman is living her own personal drama that is close to boiling over. When they are drawn back to the diner near the scene of the crash they form an unusual friendship that will become stronger with each meeting. Each will feel support from the others and ultimately learn the meaning of true friendship.

I enjoyed Jennifer Scott’s story even when I was frustrated with one or two of the characters’ actions. Each time that happened Scott managed to bring me back to the supportive friends theme which I really liked. I appreciated the epilogue that answered all of my questions and wrapped the novel up perfectly. Recommended to fans of the author and novels about women’s friendship.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jennifer Scott is a national bestselling, award-winning author who made her debut in women’s fiction with The Sister Season. She also writes critically acclaimed young adult fiction under the name Jennifer Brown. Her debut YA novel, HATE LIST (Little, Brown book for Young Readers, 2009) was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Jennifer lives in Liberty, Missouri area, with her husband and three children.
 
Please visit Jennifer Scott online at www.JenniferScottAuthor.com
Facebook: JenniferScottAuthor
Twitter: JenniferBrownYA

The Daddy Diaries by Joshua Braff

the daddy diaries (May5) pic2

  • Title:  The Daddy Diaries: A novel
  • Author:  Joshua Braff
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  May 5, 2015 – Prince Street Press
  • Source:  Tandem Literary

My take:  Jay and his wife Jackie recently moved their family to Florida from California for her job. Jay will stay home with the kids while she brings home the paycheck. He reflects on that occasionally but, overall, he embraces his role in the family.

Jay’s kids (13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter) take to their new location quite differently. His son is sullen and removed while his daughter has a new best friend and busy social life. My heart went out to Jay as he tried so hard to help his son who seemed to be very unhappy. Having raised a son I wondered if it was depression or the onset of puberty – not an easy time either way.

Through his diary notes we see Jay navigate a variety of activities and incidents in his new location. The acerbic and witty (and sometimes stereotypical) observations had me either cringing or laughing. I found his perspective on the way adult males embrace their situations as fathers (or not) interesting. Jay never quits trying to do the right thing – and he’s seen plenty of examples of how not to act.

The Daddy Diaries is a very quick and easy read about the importance of fathers and family in all its modern versions. Recommended to fans of contemporary family fiction.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Joshua Braff grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, and graduated from Columbia High School and NYU. He earned an MFA in creative writing/fiction from St. Mary’s College of California. Josh’s first novel The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green (Algonquin Books, 2004), about a dysfunctional, Jewish family in late ‘70s was chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover pick. Peep Show (Algonquin Books, 2010), his second book, was about a 17-year-old boy forced to choose between his Orthodox mother’s life and his father’s career in the porn industry. People Magazine raved, “Braff skillfully illuminates the failures and charms of a broken family. That teen longing for adults to act their age haunts long after the final page.” Josh lives in California with his wife of almost 20 years and their two kids. He is an avid baseball fan and an accomplished painter who plays guitar and drums. The Daddy Diaries is his third novel.

For more information please visit the author’s website

Inside the O’Briens: A Novel by Lisa Genova

  • Inside the O'Briens (Apr7)Title:  Inside the O’Briens: A Novel
  • Author:  Lisa Genova
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  April 2015 – Gallery Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis: Joe O’Brien is a forty-four-year-old police officer from the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Charlestown, Massachusetts. A devoted husband, proud father of four children in their twenties, and respected officer, Joe begins experiencing bouts of disorganized thinking, uncharacteristic temper outbursts, and strange, involuntary movements. He initially attributes these episodes to the stress of his job, but as these symptoms worsen, he agrees to see a neurologist and is handed a diagnosis that will change his and his family’s lives forever: Huntington’s Disease.

Huntington’s is a lethal neurodegenerative disease with no treatment and no cure. Each of Joe’s four children has a 50 percent chance of inheriting their father’s disease, and a simple blood test can reveal their genetic fate. While watching her potential future in her father’s escalating symptoms, twenty-one-year-old daughter Katie struggles with the questions this test imposes on her young adult life. Does she want to know? What if she’s gene positive? Can she live with the constant anxiety of not knowing?

As Joe’s symptoms worsen and he’s eventually stripped of his badge and more, Joe struggles to maintain hope and a sense of purpose, while Katie and her siblings must find the courage to either live a life “at risk” or learn their fate.  (from the publisher’s synopsis)

My take:   Inside the O’Briens is the third of Lisa Genova’s four novels I’ve read. Each has a medical condition as its focus. With Inside the O’Briens she addresses Huntington’s Disease, an inherited neurological condition that has no cure.

The O’Briens are an Irish Catholic family who all live in a triple-decker in Charlestown, MA. Joe and his wife Rosie are parents to 4 adult children in their twenties (2 boys and 2 girls) and a daughter-in-law. Joe begins exhibiting symptoms that soon result in a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease (HD). When he and Rosie break the news to the kids they have to explain that each of them has a 50/50 chance of being gene positive, meaning, if positive, they will get HD in ten to twenty years.

Genova’s excellent story-telling skills shine as she takes the reader inside the minds of the main characters. There were times I had to stop reading because the emotions I was feeling were so intense. And then I’d spend a lot of time just thinking about what I would do in their situation. I learned a lot about HD, the genetics involved in a diagnosis, and much more regarding therapy and other treatments for symptoms of the disease.

I would recommend Inside the O’Briens to fans of the author and contemporary fiction with a medical focus. It would be a great selection for book groups.

Audiobook review: Stardust Summer by Lauren Clark

  • stardust summer (audio - jukeboxaudio)Title:  Stardust Summer
  • Author:  Lauren Clark
  • Narrator:  Erin Mallon
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  2013 – Camellia Press
  • Source:  Publisher/Audio Jukebox

Synopsis:  Single mom Grace Mason doesn’t believe in miracles, magic, or love at first sight. She likes the quiet life, complete with her eight-year-old son, their tiny house, and her teaching job. For Grace, happiness means that nothing much ever changes in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 

Then, one thousand miles away, tragedy strikes. A massive heart attack leaves Grace’s estranged father comatose in an Upstate New York hospital. While a team of doctors fight to keep Henry Mason alive, Grace and Evan rush to his bedside to say their final goodbyes. 

Henry’s passing brings little closure for Grace, but she finds herself inexplicably drawn to her new surroundings. What begins as a short trip results in an entire summer spent with Henry’s second wife, Kathleen, and her next-door neighbor, Ryan Gordon, the town doctor. When a series of unlikely events lead to Evan’s disappearance, Grace must face her worst fears to find her son and bring him back home. 

Stardust Summer explores the complexities of forgiveness, what it means to be a family, and the fabulous possibility of falling in love again.  (publisher)

My take:  Grace has no intention of going to see her father and step-mother when she receives a formal invitation to a library function at the college where her father works. They’ve been estranged for a long time and she’s just fine with her quiet life in Mississippi. Her plans change when her father has a heart attack. She and her son Evan hurry to New York hoping to arrive before it’s too late. Their plan is to stay for a week or so but their visit becomes much longer for various reasons. In that time Grace will discover information about her past that could change the way she views her future. Will she be able to change her feelings with the new information? And is she willing to make a fresh start?

Dr. Ryan Gordon, Grace’s stepmother’s neighbor and friend, is at a place in his life where he finally understands the need for a life outside his practice. He shares Grace’s grief and would like to be more than a friend to her. He knows what it’s like to lose someone important so he understands, on some level, what Grace is going through. He also appreciates what is really important in life – family and good friends. Will Grace let him in and take a chance on love?

I liked this book but had to wonder about how Kathleen navigated her grief. I paused at some of the things she did in the week following her husband’s funeral. That could be just me, though. At any rate, I found Grace and Ryan’s story interesting. Lauren Clark’s novel is one I’d recommend to fans of contemporary fiction. I loved the setting – and the cover.

Narrator: I enjoyed Erin Mallon’s narration. From older Kathleen to younger Grace and Ryan to eight-year-old Evan, I thought she voiced the characters perfectly and would definitely listen to more of her performances.

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

  • Little Beach Street Bakery (3:31:15)Title:  Little Beach Street Bakery
  • Author:  Jenny Colgan
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  March 2015 – William Morrow
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  When 30-something Polly’s life leads her to the day where the men from the bank take over her (and her boyfriend’s) house, and their business is dissolved, she is forced to start over – without the boyfriend. She finds herself living in a wreck of a flat over a vacant bakery in a tiny seaside village an hour from where her old life went wrong. There’s nowhere to go but up. Polly survives on her optimism and willingness to change. She’s a character you can’t help but cheer on as she takes her hobby of baking bread to the next level and eventually has more takers for her bread than she ever dreamed.

It’s not all easy street for Polly though. Gillian, the woman who used to be the only bakery owner on the tidal island is not pleased with her competition. She uses intimidation on Polly but to no avail. Can the two co-exist? And what about the intriguing fisherman, Tarnie. Polly is surprised by her attraction as he’s so different from her last boyfriend. Can she even look at him in that way? But there’s more – Huckle, the American beekeeper is a bit of a mystery that she would like to solve. Huckle’s friend Reuben and Kerensa, Polly’s best friend, add an over-the-top and highly entertaining aspect to the plot.

I don’t want to spoil by telling more but suffice to say that Little Beach Street Bakery could end up on my 2015 Favorite Books list. It’s the first of Jenny Colgan’s books I’ve read and I can’t wait to read another.

Blog Tour: Never Too Late by Robyn Carr

  • Never Too Late (Mar31)Title:  Never Too Late: A Novel
  • Author:  Robyn Carr
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  March 2015 – Mira
  • Source:  Publisher/Little Bird Publicity

My take:  The McCarthy sisters are about to face big changes in their lives. Clare caught her husband of sixteen years cheating (again) and it’s the last straw. Maggie’s daughters are presenting the usual challenges that come with young teens. She’s also wondering why her husband doesn’t seem to find her attractive anymore. That has to be why their love life is lacking, right? In the years following their mother’s death, youngest McCarthy sister Sarah has become an almost reclusive artist  spending every waking moment at her studio. When will she find the courage to jump back into life?

When Clare flees the scene of her husband’s latest incident she’s involved in a terrible accident. Her recovery will take months and she’ll rely on her family like never before. There are a couple of male friends who will try to be part of her healing. Maggie can only hope there’s time to get her oldest daughter back on track. Sarah completes a self-makeover with interesting results. It’s not just Clare who’ll need the support of her sisters. All three will prove their love for each other through strength that only sisters can show.

I enjoyed Robyn Carr’s updated rerelease of Never Too Late. I didn’t have a chance to read it the first time around. There are moments with the mothers and their children that most mothers will relate to and I know many readers with sisters will find much that resonates. I’d recommend this book to fans of the author and contemporary women’s fiction.

Blog Tour/Review: The Traveling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones

  • the traveling tea shop (Mar3)Title:  The Traveling Tea Shop
  • Author:  Belinda Jones
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  March 2015 – Berkley
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Laurie Davis has always followed her passion. After escaping family drama to start a new life in New York City, she’s up for whatever challenges life brings. So when an opportunity arises for her to use her travel industry expertise and serve as an assistant and tour guide for her idol, Pamela Lambert-Leigh, star of television’s Tea-Time with Pamela, she jumps at the chance.

But Laurie’s exciting adventure ends up entailing a lot more than scouting locations for the cake queen’s new cookbook when Pamela’s sassy mother and sulky, rebellious daughter tag along for the trip. As they cruise around bakeries in New England trading local delights like Red Velvet Cake and Whoopie Pies for British specialties such as Victoria Sponge and Bakewell Tarts, more secrets than recipes are revealed.

Now, in between rediscovering romance, learning to forgive family, and finding the best dessert on the East Coast, Laurie, Pamela, and the gang might find there’s nothing a nice cup of tea, a sweet treat, and a little bit of friendship can’t heal… (publisher)

My take:  Laurie couldn’t wait to set off on the tour with Pamela and her mother, Gracie and daughter, Ravenna. Almost immediately, though, she saw that things between the three women were tense. As the days go on Laurie learned the reasons for the strained relationships. She becomes involved in a secret that she’s not pleased to know and hopes it will be out in the open very soon. The other principals have their own thoughts on how the secret should be revealed.

I think my favorite characters of the book were Laurie, Gracie, Charles and Harvey. They seemed so genuine and honorable. You’ll have to read the novel to know about Charles and Harvey.

If you’ve ever wanted to go on a road trip in New England, and you like cake, this novel could be a guide. I’ve made note of a few places I’d like to visit. Belinda Jones’ story is about family, friendship, secrets, apologies and forgiveness. And food – dessert, to be precise. I enjoyed it and recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction and foodie fiction.

Blog Tour: New Uses for Old Boyfriends by Beth Kendrick

  • new uses for old boyfriends (Feb26)Title:  New Uses for Old Boyfriends
  • Author:  Beth Kendrick
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction; Chick Lit
  • Published:  February 2015 – NAL Trade
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  After growing up in privilege and marrying into money, Lila Alders has gotten used to the good life. But when her happily-ever-after implodes, Lila must return to Black Dog Bay, the tiny seaside town where she grew up. She’s desperate for a safe haven, but everything has changed over the past ten years. Her family’s fortune is gone—and her mother is in total denial. It’s up to Lila to take care of everything…but she can barely take care of herself.

The former golden girl of Black Dog Bay struggles to reinvent herself by opening a vintage clothing boutique. But even as Lila finds new purpose for outdated dresses and tries to reunite with her ex, she realizes that sometimes it’s too late for old dreams. She’s lost everything she thought she needed but found something—someone—she desperately wants. A boy she hardly noticed has grown up into a man she can’t forget…and a second chance has never felt so much like first love.  (publisher)

My take:  Lila Alders may have lived a sheltered life once upon a not so distant time ago but now she has to be the one in charge. She’ll have to be the one to get her life back on track. She recently came through a divorce that left her with a big SUV (or FUV as she refers to it) and her clothes. After pawning her wedding rings she heads to her hometown, Black Dog Bay, Delaware. That’s where she finds her recently widowed mother, Daphne, in complete denial about her finances. It seems Lila’s father left her with a lot of debt. The house needs to be sold to pay a mountain of bills.

The mother-daughter dynamic made for interesting scenes. Outspoken Daphne is not afraid to say anything about anything to her daughter. Lila is compelled to stand up to her mother and lead the way out of their money problems. The fashion fates smile on Lila and Daphne and they begin to crawl out from under their seemingly insurmountable challenges. There’s more than just furniture and memories under the roof of their gorgeous beachfront home and the two will find a way to make a go of a new venture.

This is a small town and most of the people will do anything for each other. They also gossip and stick their noses into other people’s business. That makes for comic relief and lots of interesting secondary characters. I liked the second chance relationship for Lila. Malcolm was perfect for her. Their repartee was fun as they got to know each other once again.

New Uses for Old Boyfriends is the perfect read for anyone who has the midwinter blahs. I enjoyed it and it made me long for a beach vacation. If you’re a fan of chick lit or contemporary fiction I recommend it!

Hearth Stone by Lois Greiman

  • Hearth Stone (Feb24)Title:  Hearth Stone
  • Author:  Lois Greiman
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  February 24, 2015 – Kensington
  • Source:  Publisher

My take:  Hearth Stone is the story of a young woman whose life takes a turn in a new direction, much to her distress. Sydney was raised in privilege by a rigid father, a cold grandmother, and several nannies. When an injury changes everything she’s forced to rethink her future. She sets off on a journey to finding new meaning in her life. What she doesn’t expect is to find that her old life was based on lies.

Sydney arrives in South Dakota at her newly purchased ranch. She immediately starts to rehab the barn and house and then finds an injured horse that most would put out of its misery. She insists on trying to save it – much like the ranch is saving her.

Helping her with the work on the ranch and the injured horse is Hunter. He’s a mysterious man but she soon realizes he’s one of the good guys. Another person who shows up one day to work is Vura and her young daughter Lily. Vura is a talented carpenter with secrets of her own. Hunter, Vura and Lily are all instrumental in Sydney finding her true calling.

I had a bit of trouble with the way Sydney spoke at first. Her conversation seemed so affected but it became clear that it was a coping mechanism when speaking to Hunter (and a couple of other minor characters). As they got to know each other she loosened up.

Overall I enjoyed this novel and recommend it to fans of Contemporary/Women’s Fiction.  It’s an uplifting story and I look forward to reading more from Lois Greiman.

The Wednesday Group by Sylvia True

  • The Wednesday Group (March3)Title:  The Wednesday Group
  • Author:  Sylvia True
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  March 3, 2015 – St. Martin’s Griffin
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Gail. Hannah. Bridget. Lizzy. Flavia. Each of them has a shameful secret, and each is about to find out that she is not alone… Gail, a prominent Boston judge, keeps receiving letters from her husband’s latest girlfriend, while her husband, a theology professor, claims he’s nine-months sober from sex with grad students. Hannah, a homemaker, catches her husband having sex with a male prostitute in a public restroom. Bridget, a psychiatric nurse at a state hospital, is sure she has a loving, doting spouse, until she learns that he is addicted to chat rooms and match-making websites. Lizzy, a high school teacher, is married to a porn addict, who is withdrawn and uninterested in sex with her. Flavia was working at the Boston Public library when someone brought her an article that stated her husband had been arrested for groping a teenage girl on the subway. He must face court, and Flavia must decide if she wants to stay with him. Finally, Kathryn, the young psychologist running the group, has as much at stake as all of the others. 

As the women share never-before-uttered secrets and bond over painful truths, they work on coming to terms with their husbands’ addictions and developing healthy boundaries for themselves. Meanwhile, their outside lives become more and more intertwined, until, finally, a series of events forces each woman to face her own denial, betrayal and uncertain future head-on.  (publisher)

My take:  I was first drawn to this novel by the synopsis. I’ve never read anything that dealt with sex addiction and was curious about how it would be handled in the form of a novel.

Sylvia True’s characters run the gamut of different types of women. That said, they had one thing in common – their husbands were all sex addicts and in some kind of therapy. One way or another each woman found her way to a support group for partners of sex addicts – The Wednesday Group. The group was run by a graduate student intent on impressing her supervising professor (who was intent on becoming the next president of the university).

Each woman in the group is at a different stage of dealing with her partner’s addiction and it’s effect on her life. It was interesting to watch the group sessions play out. One woman was in complete denial about her relationship with her husband, another was too timid to take control of her situation, one was too busy keeping up appearances of a perfect life, and another, newly pregnant, was so angry she constantly acted like an out-of-control child having a tantrum. There was another woman who left the group when her husband decided to return to Greece for a job and a second chance with his wife.

There were times when I felt almost voyeuristic while reading about the different couples. I could understand why they reacted to their situations the way they did but after a while I wondered why a couple of the women didn’t divorce their husbands. Sex addiction has to be almost insurmountable, I would think. It’s a terrible breach of trust and attacks the partner’s self-esteem. I thought the author really brought that point to the forefront.

There are a lot of things book groups could discuss about The Wednesday Group. I found True’s book to be an almost addictive read. That said, it’s not a feel-good novel but it is one that will make you think.

Girl Before a Mirror by Liza Palmer

  • Girl Before a Mirror (Jan27)VineTitle:  Girl Before a Mirror
  • Author:  Liza Palmer
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  January 27, 2015 – William Morrow
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  An account executive in a Mad Men world, Anna Wyatt is at a crossroads. Recently divorced, she’s done a lot of emotional housecleaning, including a self-imposed dating sabbatical. But now that she’s turned forty, she’s struggling to figure out what her life needs. Brainstorming to win over an important new client, she discovers a self-help book–Be the Heroine, Find Your Hero–that offers her unexpected insights and leads her to a most unlikely place: a romance writers’ conference. If she can sign the Romance Cover Model of the Year Pageant winner for her campaign–and meet the author who has inspired her to take control of her life–she’ll win the account. 

For Anna, taking control means taking chances, including getting to know Sasha, her pretty young colleague on the project, and indulging in a steamy elevator ride with Lincoln Mallory, a dashing financial consultant she meets in the hotel. When the conference ends, Anna and Lincoln must decide if their intense connection is strong enough to survive outside the romantic fantasy they’ve created. Yet Lincoln is only one of Anna’s dilemmas. Now that her campaign is off the ground, others in the office want to steal her success, and her alcoholic brother, Ferdie, is spiraling out of control. 

To have the life she wants-to be happy without guilt, to be accepted for herself, to love and to be loved, to just be–she has to put herself first, accept her imperfections, embrace her passions, and finally be the heroine of her own story.  (publisher)

My take:  I so enjoyed this novel about a woman’s journey to accepting herself for who she really is – not the person she thought she should strive to be in order to be accepted by others (her parents, professors, boss, etc.). Liza Palmer’s story is funny, heartbreaking, poignant, and ultimately uplifting. I think many women will relate to some aspect of Anna’s personal life or career issues. I found her likable and sympathized with her struggles.

I love the way Palmer tells a story and she didn’t disappoint with Girl Before a Mirror. I liked it all. From Anna’s cheerful colleague, Sasha, to Lincoln, the dashing hero, to Helen, the encouraging and inspiring mentor – they all combined to help Anna figure things out. It’s an entertaining novel that I’ll recommend to friends.

First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

  • First Frost (1:20:15)Title:  First Frost
  • Series:  Waverly family #2
  • Author:  Sarah Addison Allen
  • Genre:  Magical Realism; Contemporary Fiction
  • Pub. Date:  Jan. 20, 2015 – St. Martin’s Press
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  From the New York Times bestselling author of GARDEN SPELLS comes a story of the Waverley family, in a novel as sparkling as the first dusting of frost on new-fallen leaves…

It’s October in Bascom, North Carolina, and autumn will not go quietly.  As temperatures drop and leaves begin to turn, the Waverley women are made restless by the whims of their mischievous apple tree… and all the magic that swirls around it. But this year, first frost has much more in store.  (partial synopsis from the publisher)

My take:  First Frost picks up ten years after we left the Waverly family in Garden Spells. Once again Sarah Addison Allen enchanted me with her characters, setting, and story.

Claire has a successful candy business but longs for something more. She’s just not sure what that might be.

Sydney also has a longing. She wants to have a baby with her husband. All attempts have failed and she’s not sure what to do. Also on her mind is daughter Bay, now a high school student. Sydney worries that Bay will repeat mistakes from her own past and wonders if she can prevent that from happening.

One day a stranger arrives in town bringing with him the goal of changing things for a certain Waverly. Will he be successful? No spoilers here!

As usual, I was charmed by Sarah Addison Allen’s storytelling. It’s a tale about allowing yourself to be who you know you are and not what others say you should be. I loved it all and hope for another Waverly story someday soon.

Note:  If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading Garden Spells I recommend you do so before First Frost. You’ll meet the Waverlys and discover their secrets and gifts from the beginning. 

Makin’ Miracles by Lin Stepp

  • Makin' Miracles (Dec30)Title:  Makin’ Miracles
  • Author:   Lin Stepp
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction; Christian
  • Published:  December 30, 2014 – Kensington
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Zola Devon has always been a little different. Half Tahitian, with long black hair and dark eyes, she’s especially distinctive in the mountain town of Gatlinburg. She even stocks her gift shop, Nature’s Corner, with items that reflect her island heritage and tantalize tourists. But it’s her spot-on intuition that truly sets Zola apart. When she gets a hunch about a person, she’s almost always right. And when the surly photographer who owns the gallery next door starts meddling in her business, she can only hope that, for once, her instincts are wrong.

The one thing Spencer Jackson loves more than his camera is the majestic scenery of the Smoky Mountains. Reeling from his painful past, he’s settled in a cabin in the woods to train his lens on the breathtaking landscape. A woman as uniquely beguiling as Zola could only throw his simple, uncomplicated days into chaos–and force him to lay bare his darkest secrets. But as their lives become unavoidably intertwined, they both may discover the beauty of the truth, and the joy of the unexpected.  (publisher)

My brief take:  This is the second of Lin Stepp’s novels I’ve had a chance to read. I love the Smoky Mountain setting, the characters who seem so genuine, and her themes of people learning to forgive, trust, and love. Pertinent bible references are woven into the story in a relevant and natural way.

I had issues with Spencer. He seemed almost immature in his attitude toward his problems with his family and his willingness to let go of the past. It made him moody and rather annoying. I couldn’t understand why Zola kept seeing him. But she did. I really liked Zola. She had such a wonderful outlook on life and a great sense of who she was. She looked for and found the goodness in people. It was easy to understand why Spencer would be attracted to her.

Makin’ Miracles is a story of drama, mystery, romance and family dynamics. I enjoyed the pace and was satisfied with how Stepp wrapped things up. Recommended to fans of Christian Contemporary Fiction.

The Divorce Diet by Ellen Hawley

  • The Divorce Diet (Dec30)Title:  The Divorce Diet
  • Author:  Ellen Hawley
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  December 30, 2014 – Kensington
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Abigail is sure the only thing standing between her and happiness is the weight she gained along with her beloved new baby. Until she instantly loses 170 pounds of husband.

When Thad declares that “this whole marriage thing” is no longer working, a shell-shocked Abigail takes her infant daughter, Rosie, and moves back to her parents’ house. Floundering, she turns to an imaginary guru and best friend, the author of her new weight-loss book. But surviving heartache, finding a job, and staying sane as a suddenly single new mom isn’t easy, especially on a diet–sorry, life journey.

Make an inventory of your skills, Abigail’s guru instructs. Abigail loves cooking and preparing food–real food, not the fatless, joyless dishes her diet prescribes, or the instant-frozen-artificially flavored fare she finds in her mother’s kitchen. So far, following everyone else’s rules has led to being broke, lonely, and facing a lifetime of poached eggs, faux mayonnaise, and jobs in chain restaurants. What might happen if Abigail followed her own recipe for a good life instead?…

Bitingly funny, wise, and insightful, Ellen Hawley’s fresh new novel is an ode to food and self-discovery for any woman who’s ever walked away from a relationship–or a diet–to find what true satisfaction is all about.  (publisher)

My brief take:  When Abigail takes her baby and moves back home with her parents (after her husband tells her it’s him, not her) she’s already started a diet to lose the pregnancy weight. She soon finds herself on a journey of discovery by having internal conversations with her diet guru – the author of the self-improvement (diet) book.

Abigail reconnects with her roots and realizes how superficial she’d become because of her relationships and marriage. Little by little, she gains compassion and empathy for the people in her life.

I found this novel best read in small bites – a few chapters at a time. There were times when I wanted to give Abigail a shake and say “get over yourself”. I think that’s due to the first person narrative. That issue aside, I enjoyed the novel – and there are recipes at the end :)

Make My Wish Come True by Fiona Harper

  • make my wish come true (Nov3)Title:  Make My Wish Come True
  • Author:  Fiona Harper
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction; Christmas
  • Published:  November 2014 – Harlequin HQN
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Family-oriented Juliet is a Christmas-dinner cook extraordinaire and is trying to keep it together in the wake of her marriage breakdown two Christmases ago, but the cracks are beginning to show.

Her bright and vivacious sister Gemma was always the favorite daughter. Gemma has no qualms about escaping the festive madness and the pressures of her glamorous job by jetting off somewhere warm and leaving Christmas in Juliet’s capable hands.

When Gemma shirks responsibility one too many times and announces she’s off to the Caribbean (again!), Juliet finally snaps. Gemma offers her sister the perfect solutionto swap Christmases. She’ll stay home and cook the turkey (how hard can it be?) and Juliet can fly off into the sun and have a restorative break.

In the midst of all the chaos, there’s Will, Juliet’s dishy neighbor who’s far too nice to float Gemma’s boat and may secretly harbor feelings for her sister; and Marco, the suave Italian in the villa next door who has his own ideas about the best way to help Juliet unwind.

Will the sisters abandon caution and make this a Christmas swap to remember?  (publisher)

My take:  I thoroughly enjoyed Make My Wish Come True. Fiona Harper’s story of two sisters, each thinking her  perspective of their life growing up is singularly correct, will probably resonate with anyone who has a sibling. It certainly did with me!

Yes, there are shades of the 2006 film The Holiday (it’s mentioned by name a time or two) but Make My Wish Come True is it’s own story. By swapping lives for two weeks the sisters are given a chance for some introspection and discovery about the other.

This Christmas story made me laugh, tugged my heart, and even had me reaching for a tissue near the end. Really, what more can one ask for in a Christmas book? Highly recommended.

Farewell to Cedar Key by Terri DuLong

  • Farewell to Cedar Key (Nov25)Title:  Farewell to Cedar Key
  • Series:  Cedar Key #6
  • Author:  Terri DuLong
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  November 2014 – Kensington
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Josie Sullivan adores her Cedar Key home. It’s been the ideal place to raise her daughter, Orli, who’s just turning sixteen. Now that Josie has realized her dream of becoming a registered nurse, she’s been offered the perfect job too–helping Dr. Simon Mancini run his new practice. 

Until the clinic opens, Josie is filling in at Yarning Together, where she launches a series of knitting classes for men. Yet for all the vibrant changes, there are some tangled threads. Josie’s romance-author mother, Shelby, receives a worrying diagnosis. And though Josie has always guarded her independence, her connection to Orli’s father, Grant, seems to be rekindling. Most of all, as Shelby’s college classmates rally around their dear friend, Josie begins to see that “home” is more than a place; it’s the relationships woven into each life, strand by strand…  (publisher)

My take:  Terri DuLong’s Cedar Key series is one of my favorites. I loved going back to the Florida island to see what’s up with all the characters I’ve come to know in the first five books. Farewell to Cedar Key could be my favorite of the series! I think that’s remarkable for a sixth book in a series.

This book features Josie, her daughter Orli and many more series regulars. The point that you never know what life will throw at you from one minute to another is the main theme. With the help and support of family and friends you can get through anything and that’s exactly what the people of Cedar Key prove to each other on an almost daily basis.

If you’re a knitter you’ll love that many of the Cedar Key scenes revolve around the local yarn shop. Terri DuLong also takes us to Boston for Christmas.

I enjoyed every page of this novel and recommend it to fans of the series and good contemporary fiction.

You Were Meant For Me by Yona Zeldis McDonough

  • you were meant for me (Oct7)Title:  You Were Meant For Me
  • Author:  Yona Zeldis McDonough
  • Genre:  Contemporary/Women’s Fiction
  • Published:  October 2014 – NAL Trade
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  What do you do when you have to give up the person you love most?

Thirty-five-year-old Miranda is not an impulsive person. She’s been at Domestic Goddess magazine for eight years, she has great friends, and she’s finally moving on after a breakup. Having a baby isn’t even on her radar—until the day she discovers an abandoned newborn on the platform of a Brooklyn subway station. Rushing the little girl to the closest police station, Miranda hopes and prays she’ll be all right and that a loving family will step forward to take her.

Yet Miranda can’t seem to get the baby off her mind and keeps coming up with excuses to go check on her, until finally a family court judge asks whether she’d like to be the baby’s foster parent—maybe even adopt her. To her own surprise, Miranda jumps at the chance. But nothing could have prepared her for the ecstasy of new-mother love—or the heartbreak she faces when the baby’s father surfaces….  (publisher)

My take:  You Were Meant For Me is a fast-paced novel about love – love of a child, a partner, a parent, good friends. The novel starts out with the probable suicide of the baby’s mother. Lucky for the baby, Miranda discovers her on a subway platform and makes sure the baby is taken to the authorities. Over the next few months Miranda steps forward to foster and then adopt the baby. A local writer interviews Miranda for a newspaper column which starts a chain reaction of events that will upend Miranda’s plans and happiness.

I thought it was an interesting premise and overall I enjoyed the novel. I liked it but had a tough time with almost every adult character’s self-centeredness at one time or another. Even Miranda dropped the ball a time or two. However, the author brought everything together at the end and I felt a bit better about the growth some of the characters experienced. I especially liked the direction Miranda’s life was headed.

This would be a good book to take on vacation. It’s a page turner, has attractive and affluent characters and some romance. I would definitely read more books by the author (this is my first). Included at the end are a Conversation with the Author as well as Discussion Questions.

Cancel the Wedding by Carolyn Dingman

  • cancel the wedding (Aug5)Title:  Cancel the Wedding: A Novel
  • Author:  Carolyn Dingman
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction; Southern
  • Published:  August 2014 – Harper Paperbacks
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  On the surface, Olivia has it all: a high-powered career, a loving family, and a handsome fiancé. She even seems to be coming to terms with her mother Jane’s premature death from cancer. But when Jane’s final wish is revealed, Olivia and her elder sister Georgia are mystified. Their mother rarely spoke of her rural Southern hometown, and never went back to visit—so why does she want them to return to Huntley, Georgia, to scatter her ashes?

Jane’s request offers Olivia a temporary escape from the reality she’s long been denying: she hates her “dream” job, and she’s not really sure she wants to marry her groom-to-be. With her fourteen-year-old niece, Logan, riding shotgun, she heads South on a summer road trip looking for answers about her mother.

As Olivia gets to know the town’s inhabitants, she begins to peel back the secrets of her mother’s early life—truths that force her to finally question her own future. But when Olivia is confronted with a tragedy and finds an opportunity to right a terrible wrong, will it give her the courage to accept her mother’s past—and say yes to her own desire to start over?  (publisher)

My take:  Cancel the Wedding is the story of Olivia Hughes and her search for answers about her mother. Her search takes her to Tillman, Georgia where her mother grew up. It is there that, with the help of her niece and a very helpful local newspaperman, Olivia starts to figure out the mystery of her mother’s early life.

Carolyn Dingman filled her story with charming and eccentric characters. The story was funny at times and emotionally charged at others. Olivia needed to find answers in her own life as well as her mother’s. She knew she wasn’t headed in the right direction where her personal life was concerned so the time away afforded her the space she needed to figure things out. She hadn’t planned on meeting someone new on this quest. Elliot ended up helping her solve the mystery of her mother’s life before she met Olivia’s father. He also helped her see the possibilities in her future. 

The title Cancel the Wedding might make readers think this is a breezy chick lit novel but it is not. It’s the story about a young woman searching for answers from the past so that she can move forward. I enjoyed it very much and can’t wait to see what Carolyn Dingman writes next. Recommended to fans of Southern contemporary fiction.

The House We Grew Up In: A Novel by Lisa Jewell

  • The House We Grew Up In (Aug12)Title:  The House We Grew Up In: A Novel
  • Author:  Lisa Jewell
  • Genre:  Contemporary Fiction
  • Published:  August 2014 – Atria Books
  • Source:  Publisher

Synopsis:  Meet the Bird family. They live in a honey-colored house in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village, with rambling, unkempt gardens stretching beyond. Pragmatic Meg, dreamy Beth, and tow-headed twins Rory and Rhys all attend the village school and eat home-cooked meals together every night. Their father is a sweet gangly man named Colin, who still looks like a teenager with floppy hair and owlish, round-framed glasses. Their mother is a beautiful hippy named Lorelei, who exists entirely in the moment. And she makes every moment sparkle in her children’s lives.

Then one Easter weekend, tragedy comes to call. The event is so devastating that, almost imperceptibly, it begins to tear the family apart. Years pass as the children become adults, find new relationships, and develop their own separate lives. Soon it seems as though they’ve never been a family at all. But then something happens that calls them back to the house they grew up in—and to what really happened that Easter weekend so many years ago.  (publisher)

My take:  I love reading about families and their issues. This novel is about the Bird family and boy do they have issues!

The Birds live in a lovely home in the Cotswolds and unless you were a close friend you wouldn’t think they had a care in the world. But inside the lovely home it’s a different story. The mother can’t throw anything away and continues to collect stuff – much to everyone’s dismay. As the children grow up and leave home they all have issues that stem back to one terrible Easter when the unthinkable happened.

My favorite character was oldest daughter Megan – probably because I understood her most. She grew up, left home, and lived her life completely opposite her mother’s.  She was determined to be in control and yet handled herself admirably when life didn’t go as planned and dysfunction found its way into her life. I’m not certain how realistic it was but I still enjoyed her part of the novel.

I won’t spoil it by going into the details but I will say that Lisa Jewell wrote a compelling novel that I couldn’t put down. It is by turns heartbreaking, harrowing, yet ultimately hopeful. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it to fans of the author, contemporary fiction and family dramas. I look forward to reading more of Lisa Jewell’s books.