Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Big Five O by Jane Wenham-Jones

Release Date - July 2019

Nearing 50 years myself, I expected to connect to the women in The Big Five O. The truth is I never did. Of all of them, Roz is the only one I found myself remotely interested in. Even then, I never felt compelled to read the novel in one sitting. That's why it's taken so long.

Four friends are all closing in on their 50 birthdays. They decide, some more enthusiastically than others, to celebrate together and hold a blow-out party in the middle of the summer.

There's Charlotte, an estate agent and empty nester who is finding it hard to let go of her kids, and she's more than a little suspicious about her husband's comings and goings.

Fay runs her own removal business and spends some evenings with her boy toy by her side.

Roz, a gallery assistant, is a struggling single mom who doesn't have the heart to tell everyone that she can't afford her bills let alone a party. When Roz comes up with a way to pay her bills, she doesn't dare reveal the lucrative position she's landed.

Finally, there is Sherie, the youngest of the bunch by a few months, who works as an art consultant and only has room in her life for one man - her cat.

As the women struggle to keep their secrets hidden while working together on the party, no one knows what may happen next. One of them has the biggest secret of all that will impact them all.

I did really have a hard time with this book. Halfway through the book, I still hadn't laughed. I hadn't found myself bonding with any of the characters. I also struggled to keep reading. The narrative had a decent flow, but it wasn't compelling enough to keep my interest. I love the snarky tone and humor most British chick lit and women's fiction novels impart. I missed that here.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Love We Keep by Toni Blake

Release Date - January 28, 2020

The Books in the Summer Island Series

Counting The Love We Keep, there have been three Summer Island romances. The other two novels are:

The One Who Stays - Meg Sloan inherits the Summerbrook Inn after her grandmother passes away. Meg has been in a relationship with Zack Sheppard for a while, but he hates staying. He's more at peace out on his fishing boat where he is gone for weeks at a time. Meg soon meets and starts falling for a summer visitor, Seth Darden, who is hiding things from Meg.

The Giving Heart - Lila is Meg's sister. She's on the island to house sit and meets an irritating real estate developer who wants to cut down trees adjacent to Meg's property. As much as Beck wants to appease Lila's anger, the development's been planned for a while and it's his job to make sure things get done.

This brings me to The Love We Keep. Meg's best friend, Suzanne is the island's florist. Her husband died six years ago, and she's still hurting that the man she had her eye got snatched up by Lila. Seeing them happy and seeing Meg and Seth has definitely changed dynamics. Keeping them all together is Zack's Aunt Dahlia who announces she's going on a vacation for a while. She's closing her restaurant and flying south for the winter to experience a warm, sunny winter for a change.

What happens next is shocking to everyone. While Suzanne planned a quiet winter, Zack slips on ice and winds up with serious injuries that leave him dependent on others. Suzanne was a nurse and she's the only unattached person in their circle of friends. She agrees, albeit begrudgingly, to care for Zack until ferries are running again and he can go to a specialist.

The grumpy Zack with a wanderlust nature surprisingly fits into Suzanne's life with more ease than she could have imagined. She starts to see the side of him that no one is allowed to see, and it's making her fall hard for him.

The Key Characters

Suzanne and Zack are clearly the leads in this novel, but there is some attention paid to the other characters, too. Dahlia plays a strong part in the third book, too. She may be away, but she's always been the other characters' rock, and they need her this time around. She remains part of their lives through texts and phone calls.

I will say I was very disappointed with Meg in this book. Her flip-flops annoyed me. I don't want to give away a spoiler, but I didn't like her for most of the book. I'm still not sure I like her anymore. I did love Suzanne and Zack together and loved every minute of their building romance.

My Take

I don't know if there will be more books in the Summer Island series. At this point, the main characters are all matched. Some of the summer residents could become main characters I suppose. I definitely have loved the trips to Summer Island. If it's over, I'm kind of sad.

I've loved the characters' chemistry, the setting, and the pace at which the stories are told. If you haven't read any of these books, start from the beginning. They do stand alone, but they're so good that you won't want to miss one.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Look-Alike by Erica Spindler

Release Date - January 28, 2020

I admit that Erica Spindler's new novel kept me on my toes. As some have said my reviews tend to be short and cut to the chase, I'm going to try a new structure and see what readers think.

In The Look-Alike, a young woman stumbles upon a murder victim while returning to her dorm after her study group meets. It shakes her enough that she can't help but wonder since the victim was dressed similarly if she was the target. Her overly protective father is one thing, but her mother suffers from mental illness and is convinced the woman was the true target. They decide to send the young woman to England to live with her grandmother.

Fast forward 10 years. Sienna is back. She's ready to start a new life and reunite with her mom and half-brother. Shortly after she returns, she learns the police reopened the investigation into the campus murder. Eerie phone calls begin. Someone has been watching and waiting, and she has no idea or why. Worse, she fears she might suffer from the same condition her mother does.

The Key Players

Sienna Scott is the leading lady. She's an accomplished chef and ready to open a restaurant in her hometown. She moves back in with her mom when she arrives in town.

Viv Scott is her mother. She suffers from delusions and prefers to remain homebound with curtains closed and doors and windows locked.

Bradley Scott is Sienna's half brother. He's a business owner and clearly hides secrets from his sister. He is both happy and unhappy to have her back.

Randall Clark was the campus police officer who found Sienna. He's since taken a job with the town's police force. He's one of the few people Sienna trusts from the night she found the body.

Chief Fred Thompson is still the chief and was one of Sienna's dad's closest friends. He's reopened the case when a possible new lead appears.

Jonathan Hart is Viv's neighbor. He's just bought the house and is planning to renovate and sell it. He takes an interest in Sienna from the moment they meet.

My Take

I did have it narrowed down to two key suspects by the time I was a quarter of the way into the book. That said, I also had a really hard time deciding which it could be. The author throws enough twists in that it makes it very hard to decide. As I worked my way farther, I still wasn't sure. For that reason, the ending did have me on my toes. It turned out my suspicions were right, but the author had me second-guessing myself right until the end.

Is this work the money, oh yes! I loved the time I spent with Sienna. I am kind of sad it ended and wouldn't mind returning to her hometown for other novels.

Monday, January 13, 2020

When We Were Vikings by Andrew David MacDonald

Release Date - January 28, 2020

Zelda and her older brother, Gert, have been a team for years. Since their mother died from cancer, Gert's done all he can to keep his sister, a young disabled woman, with him. Their abusive uncle was not good enough. Zelda (fetal alcohol syndrome) is charming and follows Gert's rules. There is no smoking in the house. People must take their shoes off when they enter. Smiles mean thank you and fist bumps are a sign that you've earned Zelda's respect.

Her fascination with all things Viking helps with Zelda's strength and courage. When she comes to realize that Gert may be in over his head. She's determined to come to his rescue, even if he doesn't realize he needs her help.

When We Were Vikings is such an enjoyable read. Zelda's charming and witty. Her brother is a little more naive, but I get why he makes some of the choices he does. I just wish he'd thought it through a little better. I loved their support system of Gert's girlfriend, Zelda's counselors and friends, and people they meet along the way.

While Zelda can seem innocent, there's also that part of her that longs to be an adult and do adult things. This can be a little odd to read about, but it's honest. That honesty is part of what kept me hooked.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Release Date - January 14, 2020

Big Lies in a Small Town takes place in two eras. You have the 1940s. Anna Dale wins a contest and is commissioned to paint a large mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. For some mysterious reason, Anna leaves before the mural is completed and is never seen again.

Morgan Christopher went to prison for her boyfriend's crime. She's offered an amazing deal. She can get out of prison now if she agrees to go to Edenton and restore the mural that Anna Dale started. Art was her life before her prison sentence. This gives her the chance to get back to her true passion, but restoration is not in her expertise. The artist who made the arrangements has made it clear. She is the only artist allowed to restore the mural, and she must have it completed by August 5th.

Knowing it's her only chance to start over, Morgan agrees. She idolized the artist who set this up. She has no idea why he chose her, and he's no longer alive to answer that question. She will do the best she can and maybe uncover the truth of Anna Dale's disappearance at the same time.

The chapters switch back and forth between Anna and Morgan. I don't always enjoy that approach but here it worked well. The changes were seamless and kept the plot moving. I won't say the outcome shocked me. I kind of had that suspicion, but it was very emotional as the truth started to be revealed. I couldn't stop reading until I knew. I was engrossed.

There are touches of romance, though it's not the main point of this story. There's a stronger look at the attitudes towards women and people of minority back then vs. now. I loved it.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Last Affair by Margot Hunt

Release Date - November 26, 2019

Kicking off the new year on a book that I struggled to finish. Margot Hunt's The Last Affair was too easily guessed. I had the killer figured out from the beginning.

Gwen Landon is dead. The local orthodontist's wife is found dead in their yard. Who killed her and why?

The town hides secrets. Josh Landon spotted his patients' mom at a conference. Nora is a popular food blogger stuck in an unhappy marriage. Josh gets that. His wife is unpleasant. Nora is everything he wants. Soon, the two are in the midst of an affair they can't give up. What Josh doesn't know is that his daughter, who's home after dropping out of college, spied him and Nora together.

Abby left college after finding out her boyfriend and roommate were hooking up. The last thing she will allow is for her father to do the same thing. She makes it her goal to put an end to Josh and Nora's affair.

That's in the past. When Gwen is found in their yard with her head bashed in. Police must look at the town, its residents, and the lies being told.

There is more to the story that you'll come across. Josh is good at his job and has a lot of connections to the community through his work. Gwen is never truly happy in her role and wonders what a life without kids and marriage would have been like. Nora is really starting to love Josh, but she can't keep up the lies. The story starts in the present, winds back six months to the conference, and moves forward from there.

It's detailed writing, but I didn't like any of the characters. I had the killer pegged from the start. I also found myself disinterested in why Gwen was killed. She wasn't a nice person. Her daughter was in serious need of growing up. Nora and Josh could have made everything so easy by admitting they were unhappy in their marriages and ending them first before diving into an affair that brought them both some feelings of shame.

In the end, I didn't find this was a strong example of a psychological thriller. It was too easy to guess. It was a suspense novel with a touch of romance.

The Road to Christmas: A Sweet Holiday Romance Novel by Sheila Roberts

Release Date - September 20, 2022  Sit down and explore the holiday season through four sets of eyes in Sheila Roberts' latest holiday...