Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Julie's Review: Same Beach, Next Year

Author: Dorthea Benton Frank
Series: None
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: William Morrow
Pages: 384
Obtained: TLC Book Tours
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A intriguing look at marriage and how friendship can change that relationship
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Summary:One enchanted summer, two couples begin a friendship that will last more than twenty years and transform their lives. A chance meeting on the Isle of Palms, one of Charleston’s most stunning barrier islands, brings former sweethearts, Adam Stanley and Eve Landers together again. Their respective spouses, Eliza and Carl, fight sparks of jealousy flaring from their imagined rekindling of old flames. As Adam and Eve get caught up on their lives, their partners strike up a deep friendship—and flirt with an unexpected attraction—of their own. Year after year, Adam, Eliza, Eve, and Carl eagerly await their reunion at Wild Dunes, a condominium complex at the island’s tip end, where they grow closer with each passing day, building a friendship that will withstand financial catastrophe, family tragedy, and devastating heartbreak. The devotion and love they share will help them weather the vagaries of time and enrich their lives as circumstances change, their children grow up and leave home, and their twilight years approach. Bursting with the intoxicating richness of Dorothea Benton Frank’s beloved Lowcountry—the sultry sunshine, cool ocean breezes, icy cocktails, and starry velvet skies—Same Beach, Next Year is a dazzling celebration of the infrangible power of friendship, the enduring promise of summer, and the indelible bonds of love.    

Review: Seeing how I have never read Ms. Frank before I wasn't really sure what to expect from Same Beach, Next Year. I will admit, I was pleasantly surprised, it had more depth than I thought it would. We live two decades in the lives of two couples; Eliza and Adam, Carl and Eve but the story is mainly told through the eyes of Eliza with Adam chiming in here and there. I liked Eliza but I thought she was too good for Adam. Adam is a bit self-involved and cocky. It's even more evident when they befriend Eve and Carl. Eve is a bit caught up in the superficial and Carl is consumed by his work as a pediatrician.

It is clear from the beginning that Eliza and Adam are in love and happy in their life that they share together. They have twin boys that keep them busy and have a construction company both of them are a part of. So when they happen upon Eve and Carl at the beach, they strike up a friendship. Little known to Eliza, although she can sense there's more to the story, Adam and Eve (yes, it's funny) have a history together. And this of course is where Adam completely messes up. He should have told his wife the truth in the beginning instead of burying it deep so that only he and Eve know the truth. So it festers over 20 years with it coming to a head one night.

For me it was amazing that Eliza let the sexual tension between Adam and Eve go on for so long. I know we get absorbed in our lives but seriously? I would have put that to bed early and called him out on his shit.

What I did like is that Eliza came into her own. Instead of living her life for her boys and Adam, she finally takes it into her own hands. I loved reading about her escapades in Greece and her love of cooking. I also appreciated that Ms. Frank didn't take the plot cliche way out in a couple instances during the novel. She shows how hard marriage is and what it takes to get through some tough times. I pretty much also want to live at the beach in the Lowcountry but sadly that's probably not going to happen, so I'll think about a vacation there some day!

If you are looking for a read while you are at the beach or pool this summer, then  Same Beach, Next Year would keep you entertained.


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Julie's Review: The Good Widow

Author: Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke
Series: None
Publication Date: June 1, 2017
Publisher: Lake Union
Pages: 368
Obtained: via Great Thoughts
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Suspense
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: A great domestic suspense with a twists and turns
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Summary: Elementary school teacher Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales’s marriage was far from perfect, but even in its ups and downs it was predictable, familiar. Or at least she thought it was…until two police officers showed up at her door with devastating news. Her husband of eight years, the one who should have been on a business trip to Kansas, had suffered a fatal car accident in Hawaii. And he wasn’t alone. For Jacks, laying her husband to rest was hard. But it was even harder to think that his final moments belonged to another woman—one who had left behind her own grieving and bewildered fiancĂ©. Nick, just as blindsided by the affair, wants answers. So he suggests that he and Jacks search for the truth together, retracing the doomed lovers’ last days in paradise. Now, following the twisting path of that fateful road, Jacks is learning that nothing is ever as it seems. Not her marriage. Not her husband. And most certainly not his death…  

Review: Lightning strikes twice for Jacks when she learns that her husband was killed in a car accident in Hawaii and that he had another woman with him. This is how the beginning of The Good Widow kicks off and never really lets off the accelerator. Jacks is thrown into a deep, dark hole when she learns the fate of her husband, James. She has to wrestle with the fact that their last words before he left weren't of love but were of something else, because we aren't told for a while what transpired. She's determined to find out what happened and what went wrong but she's unsure how to make that happen. This is where, James' lover's fiance steps in, Nick.

Nick and Jacks journey to Hawaii to retrace the last steps of James and Dylan. They do everything they did and inquire about the deceased pair whenever they can. Like any journey, Jacks uncovers things she didn't know and maybe would have been better not knowing but it leads to other revelations.

Jacks wasn't a perfect wife but honestly, who is? No marriage is perfect and neither are the two parties in it. Did Jacks keep something important from her husband that might have changed the course of their relationship? Absolutely. I would like to think that if he had lived that they could have worked through both betrayals but not without a ton of therapy. Most importantly Jacks finds out that she is strong and can move on with her life.

I will admit that I saw a couple of the twists coming but I still wanted to see how Jacks would respond to these events. There was one that I didn't see coming but made total sense after the reveal. Liz and Lisa have done a fantastic job in their first suspense novel and I can't wait to see where their writing takes them next.

If you are looking for a book to kick off June with, look no further than The Good Widow.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Julie's Review: One Perfect Lie

Author: Lisa Scottoline
Series: None
Publication Date: April 11, 2017
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Suspense, Thriller
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: A quick read that will having you saying "What?" a few dozen times
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Summary: On paper, Chris Brennan looks perfect. He's applying for a job as a high school government teacher, he's ready to step in as an assistant baseball coach, and his references are impeccable. But everything about Chris Brennan is a lie. Susan Sematov is proud of her son Raz, a high school pitcher so athletically talented that he's being recruited for a full-ride scholarship to a Division I college, with a future in major-league baseball. But Raz’s father died only a few months ago, leaving her son in a vulnerable place where any new father figure might influence him for good, or evil. Heather Larkin is a struggling single mother who lives for her son Jordan's baseball games. But Jordan is shy, and Heather fears he is being lured down a dark path by one of his teammates, a young man from an affluent family whose fun-loving manner might possibly conceal his violent plans. Mindy Kostis succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon's wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. But she doesn’t know that her husband and her son, Evan, are keeping secrets from her – secrets that might destroy all of them. At the center of all of them is Chris Brennan. Why is he there? What does he want? And what is he willing to do to get it? Enthralling and suspenseful, One Perfect Lie is an emotional thriller and a suburban crime story that will have readers riveted up to the shocking end, with killer twists and characters you won’t soon forget.

Review: One Perfect Lie is perhaps Lisa Scottoline's best novel today. Is there such a thing a perfect lie? If so, can you live it, breathe it and be it? Is a secret a lie? If so, everyone in this book is living a lie and I'm guessing most of us have a secret(s) we keep.

Chris Brennan isn't who he says he is but we aren't really sure who he is we just know he's telling some big lies that have a major end game in play. He weasels his way into a high school and as an assistant coach for the baseball team all so he can find a young impressionable boy to do his biding for him. He assesses the students and see which one that he can bring to his side.  He's got a limited amount of time to do this in because his deadline is less than a week. What is his deadline? What are his plans? As you are reading this, you just know that he is up to a nefarious act.

We also get to know a bit about each of the boys that Chris is targeting and their family. Raz has recently lost his dad to cancel and the family finds itself reeling in more ways than one in dealing with his death. His mother is at a loss on what to do because Neil was the glue that kept their family together.

Jordan has worked hard for his place on the varsity baseball team and his mom, Heather, couldn't be more proud. Will his hard work cost him his friendship with Raz? Heather is also dealing with her own issues since she walked out of her job. What will she do to support them?

Evan Kostis is the golden child. He's the one that has the charisma, the looks and the money. His mom though is hiding the fact that she drinks to hide the fact that her marriage isn't happy. The fact that her husband is never at home. She's not sure what is going on but she's determined to find out.

Ms. Scottoline covers a lot of ground with One Perfect Lie but she doesn't overreach, in my opinion. What I came away with though is that family always comes first, especially for us momma bears. If something is going wrong with our kids, we will be there to help them. There are twists and turns that I didn't see coming and caused me to go "whoa".

If you want a great suspense/thriller novel, then you will definitely want to pick up One Perfect Lie.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Julie's Review: The Dry

Author: Jane Harper
Series: Aaron Falk #1
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 336
Obtained: Library
Genre:  Mystery
Rating: 4.75/5
Bottom Line: An almost perfect mystery that really is a whodunit
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Summary: After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead. Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.  

Review: The Dry is one of those novels that ropes you in and then slowly and tightly unravels the story. It is the key to a superb mystery novel and Ms. Harper nails it.

In Aaron Falk, we have a flawed and human protagonist. He has locked his past away for the last 20 years until it comes barely back at him with the murder of his childhood best friend. As he comes in at the request of Luke's father, he's take back to when he lost another friend during high school. Aaron isn't exactly welcomed back with open arms especially since they were run out of town costing him and his dad everything. Aaron feels that he owes it to Luke to figure out what really happened that day. As Aaron develops an alliance with the detective, they delve into what could have happened on that fateful day. Is it tied to what happened to Ellie Deacon in the past? Or was Luke deep in financial debt due to the drought? Could he have really been that far gone to do such a horrible thing?

There are many suspects in The Dry and Ms. Harper does a great job of making each a viable option. Each character is richly drawn and you feel that you really know what makes them tick. What drives them to be the way they are? How much has the drought affected the small farming town? Is it what is making people edgy and more suspicious? Is it because Aaron used to be one of them but left under suspicious circumstances?

Ms. Harper basically lets you know the true suspect when she wants to and when she does, it makes a lot of sense. I like it when I can go back and follow the bread crumbs dropped by an author. I also appreciate when both plots come together in a way that makes sense. Aaron needed closure on Ellie's death and he got that by returning home to help the Hadley's.

If you are looking for a mystery that is taut but has an underlying keg of powder that might blow at any point, then pick up The Dry.  I can't wait to see what Ms. Harper writes next.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Julie's Review: Girl in Disguise

Author: Greer Macallister
Series: None
Publication Date: March 21, 2017
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Pages: 320
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A wonderful historical fiction novel with a kick-butt female protagonist
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Summary: Inspired by the real story of investigator Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective's rise during one of the nation's times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country. With no money and no husband, Kate Warne finds herself with few choices. The streets of 1856 Chicago offer a desperate widow mostly trouble and ruin―unless that widow has a knack for manipulation and an unusually quick mind. In a bold move that no other woman has tried, Kate convinces the legendary Allan Pinkerton to hire her as a detective. Battling criminals and coworkers alike, Kate immerses herself in the dangerous life of an operative, winning the right to tackle some of the agency's toughest investigations. But is the woman she's becoming―capable of any and all lies, swapping identities like dresses―the true Kate? Or has the real disguise been the good girl she always thought she was?

Review: I seem to be on a Chicago history kick lately because that's the main setting for Greer Macallister's wonderful Girl in Disguise. Kate Warne is a force to be reckoned with and to behold. She doesn't shy away from challenges and one of her first hurdles is to just get hired on by Pinkerton. Of course, being the first female detective isn't going to be easy and she has her battles including the one where all her male co-workers think she's sleeping with the boss. Kate is damn good at her job and can slip into different persona's easily.

I loved the cases that Kate was put on because they showcased her skills and her keen ability to read people. This has to do with how she was brought up by her parents. She also hones her skills by watching how her partners do their job as well.  Was Kate lonely? Absolutely and she wrestled with this all the time. She was married to her job and a man wouldn't understand that kind of dedication by a woman.

It's never easy to be a pioneer in anything but Ms. Macallister shows just what battle that was for Kate. She never stopped trying to be the best even when a lot was riding on her case, including the welfare of the country. She knew what needed to be done and got it done, even with great personal sacrifice.

I love knowing something that my husband doesn't know especially since he likes all the typical spy, subterfuge movies and he had no clue about the Pinkerton Detective Agency let alone the first female P.I. I have to say I was a bit smug about it. Plus then I had to use Google to find out if they are still around and they are but the focus is Risk Management.

Girl in Disguise is a wonderful historical fiction novel with a strong, kick-butt female as the protagonist. I can't recommend this book enough!


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Julie's Review: Before the Rains Fall

Author: Camille Di Maio
Series: None
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Publisher: Lake Union
Pages: 334
Obtained: Get Red PR
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: A story of sacrifice, family, and forgiveness
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Summary: After serving seventy years in prison for the murder of her sister, Eula, Della Lee has finally returned home to the Texas town of Puerto Pesar. She’s free from confinement—and ready to tell her secrets before it’s too late. She finds a willing audience in journalist Mick Anders, who is reeling after his suspension from a Boston newspaper and in town, reluctantly, to investigate a mysterious portrait of Eula that reportedly sheds tears. He crosses paths with Dr. Paloma Vega, who’s visiting Puerto Pesar with her own mission: to take care of her ailing grandmother and to rescue her rebellious younger sister before something terrible happens. Paloma and Mick have their reasons to be in the hot, parched border town whose name translates as “Port of Regret.” But they don’t anticipate how their lives will be changed forever. Moving and engrossing, this dual story alternates between Della’s dark ordeals of the 1940s and Paloma and Mick’s present-day search for answers―about roots, family, love, and what is truly important in life.  

Review: My first question before jumping into Before the Rain Falls was how does anyone actually serve 70 years in prison?! Seriously?! How can you even function? What is left for you on the outside? Will you even know how to function?These are all the issues Della Lee is facing as she returns to her home town to live out her days and to tell her truth about what really happened that fateful afternoon with her sister, Eula.

Mick is in Puerto Pesar to chase a story about the crying portrait of Eula Lee because he's basically in a scandal back home and his editor needs him to be scarce. Paloma is back in Puerto Pesar because her grandmother had a heart attack and needs to be cared for. She's torn about being home and also about starting her job in New York. She dreads being back but she's also pulled there as well. There is something about going home that leaves one with mixed feelings.

I loved how Ms. Di Maio told Della's story in flashbacks and also in telling her story to Mick. Mick realizes that the story isn't about if the portrait of Eula Lee but it is what Della has to say that needs to be told. As Della's story is revealed it isn't too hard to see what happened but why Della did it is ingrained in culture and religion.

Ms. Di Maio does a fantastic job of describing Puerto Pesar and the culture of a small town. In some of the scenes you feel that you are right there having mango margaritas and sopapilas with Mick and Paloma. I loved Paloma's relationship with her Grandmother; they really loved and cared for each other.

While this was my first time reading Ms. Di Maio, I will be going back to read The Memory of Us and I look forward to what she writes in the future. 


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Julie's Review: Windy City Blues

Author: Renee Rosen
Series: None
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 480
Obtained: publisher via NetGalley
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Bottom Line: A fantastic look at the Chicago Blues scene through the eyes of fictional characters
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Summary: In 1960s Chicago, a young woman stands in the middle of a musical and social revolution. A new historical novel from the bestselling author of White Collar Girl and What the Lady Wants. Leeba Groski doesn’t exactly fit in, but her love of music is not lost on her childhood friend and neighbor, Leonard Chess, who offers her a job at his new record company in Chicago. What starts as answering phones and filing becomes more than Leeba ever dreamed of, as she comes into her own as a songwriter and crosses paths with legendary performers like Chuck Berry and Etta James. But it’s Red Dupree, a black blues guitarist from Louisiana, who captures her heart and changes her life. Their relationship is unwelcome in segregated Chicago and they are shunned by Leeba’s Orthodox Jewish family. Yet in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Leeba and Red discover that, in times of struggle, music can bring people together.

Review: If you are looking for a novel that blends history and fictional characters so well that you consult Google, then Windy City Blues is for you! Having grown up in the suburbs of Chicago and spending my college years there, I am always intrigued by all the history it has to offer. I'm also quite astounded by the things I don't know.

What I loved about this novel is the rich history of the Chicago Blues scene but also how Ms. Rosen weaved in the Civil Rights movement. I love how Leeba leaped into that movement with Red, because it was something that both of them were affected by personally not just him because he was black. I can't even imagine being in a interracial relationship back in the 1950s and the trials and tribulations the dealt with, even up North. Leeba risks every thing because she falls in love with Red but they lift each other up and encourage each other in ways that no one every had before.

While this novel focuses on the music industry and specifically the Blues, it is multi-layered. Ms. Rosen deals with race relations, sexism, bigotry, family drama, and substance abuse. Each of the characters she brings into the novel has a purpose for moving the story forward. The story starts off slowly but that's not to say things aren't happening, it's just that she's laying the ground work.

I loved Leeba. She was tenacious, generous, loving, tough and strong. She knew what she wanted and didn't hesitate to go and get it. She wanted to write songs, so she did. She wanted to get someone to perform and record them, so she pestered Leonard until he let her record it. Her love for Red never wavered, even when he was in self-loathing mode. She stuck by him through all the ups and downs, which is what any marriage goes through. They had more uphill battles than plateaus though.

As the decade moves on we see the music industry shift how it does business, how the music interest changes and how this affects the musicians. I can only imagine how hard it is to become irrelevant when it is your livelihood. We see the Chess brother's struggle with the changing of the tide as well.

If you have any interest in the Chicago Blues scene or music history in general than I highly recommend Windy City Blues. I don't think you will be disappointed.


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Julie's Review: The Forever Summer

Author: Jamie Brenner
Series: None
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Pages: 368
Obtained: publisher via Netgalley
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction, Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Bottom Line: Captivating read about losing and finding yourself
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Summary: Marin Bishop has always played by the rules, and it's paid off: at twenty-eight she has a handsome fiancĂ©, a prestigious Manhattan legal career, and the hard-won admiration of her father. But one moment of weakness leaves Marin unemployed and alone, all in a single day. Then a woman claiming to be Marin's half-sister shows up, and it's all Marin can do not to break down completely. Seeking escape, Marin agrees to a road trip to meet the grandmother she never knew she had. As the summer unfolds at her grandmother's quaint beachside B&B, it becomes clear that the truth of her half-sister is just the beginning of revelations that will change Marin's life forever. THE FOREVER SUMMER is a delicious page-turner and a provocative exploration of what happens when our notions of love, truth, and family are put to the ultimate test.  

Review: Forever Summer is a book that you will fly through in one or two sittings because you will want to see how it all plays out in the end. Marin is career driven and focused, until a short office affair causes her to lose her job and lose the life she's been living. She's become a big un-moored and then a stranger shows up on her doorstep claiming they are half-sisters. So her life really isn't as it seems.

Rachel, on the other hand, couldn't be more excited to find out who her biological father is since she'll finally have the family she's dreamed of. Rachel's mom is more like her best friend than her mom and isn't the most stable of human beings. Rachel seizes this opportunity to redefine her life and her family history.

The person I felt the most for was Marin's mom Blythe. She has to reconcile a lot of her history with Marin and with herself. She has to reconcile her actions and the outcome of those. It is also her realizing that while her marriage wasn't necessarily a happy one or a true partnership, there was a lot of good to it.

There is a lot of wit and heart within the pages of this book but at times I could feel where the story was going and in the end it was wrapped up with a nice bow. Both girls found love and came to terms with what family meant to them and not really letting it define them.

I did fall in love with the setting of the novel and for me it was just as important as any of the characters in the book. It helped them heal and helped them change in a way that only some settings can do.

Forever Summer is a book that you can sink yourself into and escape into a beachside B& B.