Book Review: The View from Alameda Island by Robyn Carr

Goodreads Summary:

From the outside looking in, Lauren Delaney has a life to envy—a successful career, a solid marriage to a prominent surgeon and two beautiful daughters who are off to good colleges. But on her twenty-fourth wedding anniversary Lauren makes a decision that will change everything.

Lauren won’t pretend things are perfect anymore. She defies the controlling husband who has privately mistreated her throughout their marriage and files for divorce. And as she starts her new life, she meets a kindred spirit—a man who is also struggling with the decision to end his unhappy marriage.

But Lauren’s husband wants his “perfect” life back and his actions are shocking. Facing an uncertain future, Lauren discovers an inner strength she didn’t know she had as she fights for the love and happiness she deserves.

My Thoughts:

When I picked up this book, I was in the mood for a book that I could really lose myself in – and this book delivered. I really enjoyed this book!

Lauren endures a marriage for twenty-four years that was controlling and loveless, and the reader knows right away that she will not be growing old with her husband, Brad, and that this year together is their last. She knows what will happen, and what she needs to do in order to leave the marriage and plans well and plans thoroughly. However, of course, there are still major issues and problems, despite all of her careful and meticulous planning. With Brad, with her daughters, with trusting her own judgement and decisions to some extent. The title of this book is perfect – Lauren’s new viewpoint is physical, and emotional, as she reflects back on her life and the choices she has made. As she looks out and forward, she is also taking a look in, and back. She undergoes some real self-reflection and finds not just her independence but also that she is tough and smart and and strong.

I found her relationship with her two daughters to be completely realistic, especially in this situation. One aspect I enjoyed in this book was Lauren exploring her new relationships with her daughters out from under the umbrella her ex, and meeting them on new terms. Her whole life was changed, and it was like a rebirth in a way.

I am a relatively new Robyn Carr fan, and every book I read by her, I like her books more and more! I loved this one, and I am looking forward to reading her again in the future!

Thank you to Little Bird Publicity for the review copy in exchange for an honest review~

Book Review: Bonavere Howl

Goodreads Summary:

It is 1955, and the three Fayette sisters have lived their whole lives in the enchanting French Quarter of New Orleans. Though neglected by their parents, they share a close bond with one another–from afternoons in their small, shared bedroom, to trying to speak with ghosts beneath the sweeping trees in their garden. When the middle sister Constance disappears, the family believes she has run away, as she has done before; it is only the youngest–thirteen-year-old Bonavere (known as Bonnie)–who suspects there is more to it. Met only with grief from her family and resistance from the police, Bonnie embarks on a journey to bring her sister home, venturing through fabled Red Honey Swamp, and the city’s vibrant and brutal history. Unravelling the layers of her sister’s secret life, Bonnie discovers a pattern of girls found half-mad in the Louisiana swampland, and a connection to the wealthy, notorious Lasalle family. To rescue her sister, she must confront the realities of true violence, and the very nature of insanity.

My Thoughts:

I will often pick a book for the setting, and Bonavere Howl was one I chose simply because the blurb said New Orleans. New Orleans is one of my very favorite cities to visit, I love its vibe and its energy and its people so much. One of my best friends is from New Orleans, and I love just listening to her talk about her hometown. So when I saw this, I had to read it.

If you have ever been to the Crescent City, you will know what that swampy, sticky, humid heat feels like. And Galway evokes this feeling, that lazy, energy sapping heat, that makes you want to just hide out in the shade with a big old glass of something cold, listening to some music, daydreaming. This sense permeates this book, and I read it during a particularly cold and damp week here in Michigan. The murky feeling penetrates to the plot of the book as well, not just the setting, but also the central mystery. Bonavere is a young woman whose sister just goes up and missing one evening, and Bonavere takes it upon herself to figure out where she disappeared to when it seems no one is looking hard enough. She has many accomplices throughout her search – her best friend Saul, her oldest sister Fritzie, but it is Bonavere’s perseverance that stands out. She is determined to find her sister, or at least the truth of where or what happened to her. Bonavere must contend with many obstacles along the way as well, including putting her friend Saul’s life and that of his family’s life, into danger.

The main focus is on the three sisters and their relationship. In some ways I was reminded of The Virgin Suicides, with the girls having a closeness and no one else really knowing or understanding them fully. Fritzie and Connie and Bonnie have a strong sisterly bond, one forged it seems through some parental indifference to the three girls. Bonnie never gives up on trying to find her sister, and just the fact that Connie’s presence is missing in the house lies palpably upon the two sisters remaining.

I was slowly sucked into this story, which languidly leads you down different paths until the final, chilling ending. A slow read, but a good one.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Girl Most Likely by Max Allan Collins

girl most likely

NetGalley Summary:

It’s never too late for revenge in this thrilling novel by New York Times bestselling and award-winning crime master Max Allan Collins.

In a small Midwest town, twenty-eight-year-old Krista Larson has made her mark as the youngest female police chief in the country. She’s learned from the best: her father, Keith, a decorated former detective. But as accustomed as they are to the relative quiet of their idyllic tourist town, things quickly turn with Krista’s ten-year high school reunion.

With the out-of-towners holed up in a lakefront lodge, it doesn’t take long to stir up old grudges and resentments. Now a successful TV host, Astrid Lund, voted the “Girl Most Likely to Succeed”—and then some—is back in town. Her reputation as a dogged reporter has made the stunning blonde famous. Her reputation among her former classmates and rivals has made her infamous. Astrid’s list of enemies is a long one. And as the reunion begins, so does a triple murder investigation.

Krista and her father are following leads and opening long-locked doors from their hometown to the Florida suburbs to Chicago’s underworld. They just never imagined what would be revealed: the secrets and scandals of Krista’s own past.

My Thoughts:

This book starts off with a bang! Right out of the gate, the reader is introduced to mystery and mayhem, and the the first third of the book has great build up and suspense. Unfortunately for me, it sort of petered out until it was just over, and I was left feeling a little disappointed.

Krista and her dad have for me, a weird relationship that I had a hard time getting over. He is living with her at her suggestion following the death of her mother, and he repays her by going through her garbage and confronting her about things he finds there. I mean, I get he is a retired detective, but jeez – boundaries might need to be in order! Then later, she invites him to go with her to her class reunion. It has only been ten years, so it seemed like she should still be feeling young enough to go and cut loose with her old classmates, without her dad there. Maybe it is just me though. I love my dad and I think he is pretty cool, but I think he would feel wildly out of place there anyway, even knowing my classmates. Anyway, that is just a small part of this book, but it was weird enough to me to jolt me out of my reading experience.

Whena murder occurs, Krista, who is hailed for being the youngest female chief in the country, calls in her dad to help her out as a consultant. This made sense, she had never covered a murder before and she wanted to catch this killer. However, to me, it feels like she is just sort of there for the rest of the book. Like her dad is in charge, and is a much bigger character – he is the dominant character that emerges in this story. I wish there had been more about Krista, proving her capabilities and showing her strengths. And then when we find out the murderer, I felt sort of like we never got a true explanation of why they did what they did. I didn’t get enough of an explanation to satisfy me.

This book was not all bad though. Overall, I liked the premise, I liked the setting, I liked the characters – I liked the bones of this book, if that makes sense. To me, I feel it could have been fleshed out more, and that this reads more like a rough draft than a finished book. It was almost there, but not quite  I can see this as a series that will become more sophisticated, with more detail, more depth to the characters. I think this as a potential series has legs, but this book didn’t quite go the distance.

**Update! Check out the comments area for insights from author Max Allan Collins himself! It was a great conversation and I enjoyed hearing what he had to say – and I even came to a few different conclusions!**

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you NetGalley!

Book Review: The Cliff House by RaeAnne Thayne

cliff house

Goodreads Summary:

After the death of their mother, sisters Daisy and Beatriz Davenport found a home with their aunt Stella in the beautiful and welcoming town of Cape Sanctuary. They never knew all the dreams that Stella sacrificed to ensure they had everything they’d ever need. Now, with Daisy and Bea grown, it’s time for Stella to reveal the secret she’s been keeping from them—a secret that will change their family forever.

Bea thought she’d sown all her wild oats when she got pregnant far too young. The marriage that followed was rocky and not destined to last, but it gave Bea her wonderful, mature, now eleven-year-old daughter, Marisol. But just as she’s beginning to pursue a new love with an old friend, Bea’s ex-husband resurfaces and turns their lives completely upside down.

Then there’s Daisy—sensible, rational, financially prudent Daisy. She’s never taken a risk in her life—until she meets a man who makes her question everything she thought she knew about life, love and the power of taking chances.

In this heartwarming story, Stella, Bea and Daisy will discover that the path to true happiness is filled with twists and turns, but love always leads them back home.

My Thoughts:

This book had a different feel from the other books I have read by Thayne. Her books have a certain essence about them, quirky, feel good, small town. The Cliff House felt more serious, although still had that small town goodness I love. While this book was a little different, I still very much enjoyed it – actually, I really came to like the change!

Stella, Bea, and Daisy are three women who deal with some real world big issues.  Stella raised her two nieces, Bea and Daisy, after their mother passed away – but as her sister was a bit wild and a bit lost, she didn’t know that her sister had died until Daisy and Bea had spent a year in foster care, in separate houses. When Stella found out, she dropped all her life plans and took her nieces in, raising them although she was just a young woman really herself.

Daisy is a tightly controlled woman, a widow at a young age, after marrying a man older than her who had had a terminal disease. She keeps her emotions in check, and views herself as the sensible one, while her sister Bea is artistic and creative and follows her heart and emotions. Well, with one exception that she means to change until her ex-husband Cruz steps back into the picture.

There is so much rich backstory in this novel, and I don’t want to give too much away. So many layers to uncover as you read, and I would hate to take away from those revelations as they occur. However, I will say that all three of these women are at a crossroads – and have some secrets that they need to share.

My favorite story line was Stella’s. Stella is forty, and we find out right away that she is pregnant, something she had wanted for a long time. Stella is a teacher and foster parent, besides raising her nieces, and is such a nurturing, caring soul. I really could relate to her character, as I was considered a “geriatric pregnancy” since I was over 38 when I was pregnant with my son. Lol. I understand her fears and concerns and also her hopes and dreams. I found Stella to be beautifully written, and I feel that Thayne really understood this character very well to write her as she did, so perfectly. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy Daisy and Bea’s journey’s as well, but Stella’s spoke to my own heart.

I found this book to be a wonderful read – it had real emotion and soul, and I found these character’s stories moving, particularly Daisy’s and Stella’s. I honestly wasn’t super interested in Bea’s character or story all that much, but it did provide a less intense story line. Overall, I would definitely recommend this one! It is a moody read, not as lighthearted throughout, but has great heartwarming moments and a sense of family and love. I think this is a great read for anytime, but would be especially good on a rainy day with a cup of tea, a perfect book to sink into on a cozy day.

 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you Little Bird Publicity and Harlequin!

Book Review: Sunset Beach by Mary Kay Andrews

sunset beach

Goodreads Summary: 

Drue Campbell’s life is adrift. Out of a job and down on her luck, life doesn’t seem to be getting any better when her estranged father, Brice Campbell, a flamboyant personal injury attorney, shows up at her mother’s funeral after a twenty-year absence. Worse, he’s remarried – to Drue’s eighth grade frenemy, Wendy, now his office manager. And they’re offering her a job.

It seems like the job from hell, but the offer is sweetened by the news of her inheritance – her grandparents’ beach bungalow in the sleepy town of Sunset Beach, a charming but storm-damaged eyesore now surrounded by waterfront McMansions.

With no other prospects, Drue begrudgingly joins the firm, spending her days screening out the grifters whose phone calls flood the law office. Working with Wendy is no picnic either. But when a suspicious death at an exclusive beach resort nearby exposes possible corruption at her father’s firm, she goes from unwilling cubicle rat to unwitting investigator, and is drawn into a case that may – or may not – involve her father. With an office romance building, a decades-old missing persons case re-opened, and a cottage in rehab, one thing is for sure at Sunset Beach: there’s a storm on the horizon.

My Thoughts:

I love to read Mary Kay Andrews. Always a great warm weather location, interesting premise, and madcap, zany characters. I first started reading her when I found the Savannah Blues series, and haven’t stopped. When I received a free review copy from St. Martin’s Press via NetGalley, I was so excited! I was feeling a bit down and out over this everlasting, non-stop winter we seem to be experiencing in Michigan, and I needed a bit of a Vitamin D boost, even if it was vicariously through fiction.

At first, it was not quite what I was expecting. Not quite as madcap and zany, there was a different tone right from the start. Poor Drue was going through one of the lowest moments of her life, losing almost everything in her life all at once. Her estranged father shows up to her mom’s funeral with an offer she thought she could refuse – until the rest of her world came crashing down, like the kite board that rendered her injured on top of everything else.

Drue reluctantly accepts the offer, which was sweetened by the prospect of living her in Noni and Popi’s cottage on the beach, where she had spent many a happy summer. The cottage needs some work, but in the beginning, so does Drue. I have to be honest – Drue kind of bugged me at first. She was a bit whiny, had a bit of a chip on her shoulder, and while I guess in part it was a well-earned one, she didn’t seem to be swayed by her father’s attempts to reconcile their relationship, and it just seemed sort of…bratty. And this character was over the age where that is acceptable. However, Drue’s wall starts to come down, and as it did, she was a much more likable character. Perhaps this was intentional by the author, for us to meet her in such a bad place, at less than her best, then see how she blooms as she heals.

Judging by just the cover, I expected a lot more beach time romance, and while there was a bit of romance, there was a lot more depth to this story as well. While working for her father’s law firm, Drue is drawn into two unsolved murders – one from more recent times, and another from 1976. The more I read, the more fascinated I was. There were a lot of layers to unwrap in both of these mysteries, and I loved when a new clue was dug up by Drue, who went to any length to find out the truth.

All in all, a bit of a slow start for me, but really picked up in the end. I didn’t want to put it down. I hope that Andrews writes more books involving these characters, as I feel that Drue has more adventures ahead of her!

 

Book Review: The Ash Family

From the Publisher:

When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.

At nineteen, Berie encounters a seductive and mysterious man at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Shut off from the people around her, she finds herself compelled by his promise of a new life. He ferries her into a place of order and chaos: the Ash Family farm. There, she joins an intentional community living off the fertile land of the mountains, bound together by high ideals and through relationships she can’t untangle. Berie—now renamed Harmony—renounces her old life and settles into her new one on the farm. She begins to make friends. And then they start to disappear.

Thrilling and profound, The Ash Family explores what we will sacrifice in the search for happiness, and the beautiful and grotesque power of the human spirit as it seeks its ultimate place of belonging.

My Thoughts:

The first thing that drew me to this book was the cover – then I read the description and knew I was all in. I have a thing for reading books that are set in communes, and I was super excited to start this one.

Idealistically, a commune sounds like a beautiful thing, one that appeals to my crunchy granola type nature. Off-grid living, living off the land, baking your own bread every day, enjoying the fruits of your labors all sounds so back to the basics, pure, wholesome. Except sometimes ideas can get twisted up and ugly, sometimes they can take a wrong turn. Berie meets Bay at the bus stop after a spur of the moment decision to not get on the plane that will take her to college. She is unsure of where she wants to go or what to do, and suddenly, an answer appears. Bay tells her that there is a rule about going to the farm – you either stay three days or you stay forever. When Berie’s three days are up, she doesn’t leave.

Berie is a person adrift, wanting to stay at the farm and be part of something bigger, part of the wilderness, part of this family hidden away in the hills, yet has a hard time letting go of her “fake” life, as the community refers to the rest of the world. Their life on the farm is real, all else is fake. Dice is their leader, their “father”, and has a magnetic personality that compels those around him to want to please him, to follow his wishes, no questions asked. He is doing penance for the crimes against the earth that he committed in his “fake” life, before he started the farm. A man committed to the “real” world he has created, yet has a fondness for soap scented with artificial pine while living among actual pine trees. He has rules and doctrines that the family must live by, with some pretty steep punishments. There are no possessions, everything belongs to everyone, there are no couples, no children are allowed. No pharmaceutical medicines, if you get sick or injured it is all folklore remedies. No talking about your life before, and heaven forbid the rest of the family think you are shirking your duties. It is a hard life, but they are doing what they feel they need to do. And the family’s desire to protect the planet is extreme – they are not just a band of happy hippies, they are eco-terrorists, cooking up more than jam on the farm. They make bombs, and bullets, and not only are they not afraid to use them, they are looking for the opportunity.

Berie does her best to fit in, but while she is 99% brainwashed, she still isn’t completely sold. She realizes she is an empty vessel, waiting for someone to fill her up with what she needs to do and be, and she feels that her place is on the farm, tending the sheep. Even before the farm, she seemed to live her life by what her boyfriend wanted, how he saw her through his lens. I found her a bit unlikable – her decisions didn’t only affect her, and she makes some pretty bad ones. Also, her mother is this huge shadowy figure, whom we never actually meet. Berie portrays her as some sort of villainous figure, yet her memories don’t seem to support this. Again, what is the truth?

This book was amazing – it kept me guessing, and totally off balance. I didn’t know truth from a lie, a friend from a foe, or what was really happening behind the scenes. I wanted to keep reading and reading, I wanted to know what the heck was the real story, in this story of fake and real.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the advance copy! 

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review and Giveaway: The Best of Us by Robyn Carr

Goodreads Summary:

Dr. Leigh Culver loves practicing medicine in Timberlake, Colorado. It is a much-needed change of pace from her stressful life in Chicago. The only drawback is she misses her aunt Helen, the woman who raised her. But it’s time that Leigh has her independence, and she hopes the beauty of the Colorado wilderness will entice her aunt to visit often.

Helen Culver is an independent woman who lovingly raised her sister’s orphaned child. Now, with Leigh grown, it’s time for her to live life for herself. The retired teacher has become a successful mystery writer who loves to travel and intends to never experience winter again.

When Helen visits Leigh, she is surprised to find her niece still needs her, especially when it comes to sorting out her love life. But the biggest surprise comes when Leigh takes Helen out to Sullivan’s Crossing and Helen finds herself falling for the place and one special person. Helen and Leigh will each have to decide if they can open themselves up to love neither expected to find and seize the opportunity to live their best lives.

My Thoughts:

I always love when my reading takes me to the world of Sullivan’s Crossing, in Timberlake, Colorado. There is just something so real about these characters, and I have enjoyed reading about their challenges and triumphs in the previous novels. This installment was no different, I finished it in one day, a record for me these days!

Leigh Culver has settled into the community of Timberlake comfortably, healing their hurts in her clinic, sharing stories and hellos in the pubs and restaurants, slowly making friends and inroads into this friendly community. Her life seems to be just how she wants it, with the exception of missing her beloved aunt, who raised her. When a white-faced Rob Shandon, owner of the town pub, comes in one evening with his injured son, little does she know that her world is about to change in a big way. After stitching up Rob’s son’s hand, she finds she has a new patient, Rob himself, who almost faints at the sight of the blood. Leigh capably calms him down by massaging his head, something she does for patients who need some help slowing down, and boom – fireworks for Rob, immediately. Their quick friendship turns into a relationship even quicker. Spring has definitely sprung in Colorado, and love is in the air for everyone.

With spring in full bloom, Leigh’s aunt Helen comes for a visit. Helen is a popular mystery writer, and spends her time visiting different friends spread out through the U.S., avoiding midwestern winters like the plague. Helen is planning on spending much of her time with Leigh, but finds herself drawn to the front porch and kitchen table and eventually bedroom, of someone special herself.

But like Shakespeare said, the course of true love never did run smooth, as many of the couples in this book go through their share of hurdles. From Finn’s story with his girlfriend Maia, to Leigh and Rob, to Helen and her new love, all must find their way and their path to that true happiness.

I loved Leigh’s story with Rob, although, I do have to say I have to give it to Rob in this book. Leigh was a little difficult at times, and a little selfish, and I felt Rob’s character remained strong and steadfast and loyal, qualities that are also reflected in his son Finn. I loved the Shandon family, I have to say, in this book.

All in all, this was a great read from start to finish, and one to shake off those winter blues!

Giveaway! For a chance to win a brand new hardcover The Best of Us, just leave a comment below! I’ll do a drawing next Wednesday, Jan. 16th. Open to U.S. residents only, sorry!

Thank you to Little Bird Publicity for the chance to read and review this book! I was given a review copy in exchange for an honest review.